Nov. 8, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. - Because of their vast age difference - Cliff McCray is almost 5.5 years older than twins Jordan and Justin McCray - the relationship between the brothers while growing up was at best limited.
And that was certainly understandable considering that when Cliff was a youngster, his identical twin brothers were toddlers. When Cliff was starring in high school at Miami Southridge, his brothers were still playing Pee Wee football. And when Cliff first started his career at UCF, his brothers were still in South Florida and finding their way as prep football players and wrestlers.
But now that they all play together along the same offensive line at UCF, forming what is believed to be the only set of three brothers on one team in college football, the McCrays are virtually inseparable. Why, they're even inseparable in the game program with Jordan wearing No. 63, Justin donning No. 64 and Cliff wearing No. 65 for the past five seasons.
They, at times, start together along the offensive line. They pick each other's brains for tips. They watch game film together at the UCF football complex and are regulars at the movies on Tuesday nights to take advantage of the $6 specials. And while Cliff lives off campus and Jordan and Justin share a dorm room on campus, rare is it that one or the other isn't visiting the other following football practice or classes.
``I'm sure as little brothers we used to get on his nerves sometimes and he didn't always want to be around us back then, but now we're all in college and more mature. Now, we understand what he's going through and he knows what we're going through,'' Jordan McCray said. ``We're all on the same page in life now and it's so cool that we're together.''
Brother and sister combinations might be a rarity at most schools, but they are actually quite common at UCF. The men's basketball team features brothers Jeff and Marcus Jordan, while the women's basketball team has Kayli and Meghan Keough. And in addition to the McCray brothers in football, the track and field/cross country teams have twin sisters in Ali and Emmy Brandehoff.
The McCrays have been afforded the chance to play together at UCF because Cliff, 24, was granted two years of medical hardships by the NCAA because of heart issues early in his career. These days, the McCray brothers have become anchors for a UCF offense that ranks third in the nation in time of possession and is churning out 416 yards a game on average.
Cliff has started the past five games at guard, and will likely be there again on Saturday night when UCF (4-5 overall and 2-3 in Conference USA play) faces BCS No. 22 Southern Miss (8-1 and 4-1) in Hattiesburg, Miss. Justin has started five games, while Jordan started once. Cliff and Jordan were starters together against UAB, while Cliff and Justin started against SMU. The two twins, now sophomores, have yet to start together, but their future is bright at UCF.
``They're coming along and both (of the sophomores) are playing a lot,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``It takes awhile to understand the speed of the game up front, but I think both of them are going to be very good players when they finally mature. But I'm very pleased with them. They're going to get better and better as they get more reps.''
Cliff admits to being touched at times when he looks across the huddle and sees one of his younger brothers following his legacy at UCF. He marvels at the growth the twins have made already and he predicts they will be much better than him in no time. But most of all, Cliff said he's happy about how being together has brought the brothers close and he'll never forget these past two years with his brothers.
``When I was 13 and they were eight and the commonalities weren't really matching up that much. But now, we all pretty much have the same interests. We can talk football, we hang out together and I can help them with what's going on in their lives,'' said Cliff, who has already earned a bachelor's degree and is close to earning his master's in mass communications. ``Having this time with them will always be special for me. Us having the opportunity to play together, it's a tremendous opportunity. I feel it a lot more this year because we've all been playing a lot more together. Now, they're not so much rookies and we're able to talk more about what's going on.''
Jordan appeared in six games and Justin appeared in seven games last season and both earned spots on the C-USA All-Freshman squad. At the time, they leaned heavily on their older brother for tips on making the transition from high school to college football. Justin shudders to think where he would have been without his brothers at his side almost every waking moment.
``Cliff is such a big influence for us. He answers all of our questions and helps us on and off the field,'' Justin said. ``He's taught us how to watch film and he's helped teach us all the things that young players need to learn. It's been awesome (seeing Cliff in the huddle). He's a lot older than us, so we never really thought we'd have a chance to play with him, so this has been a real blessing for us.''
Jordan is considered the jokester of the group, while Justin is the more social, outgoing type. Jordan recently grew his hair out, making it much easier for UCF teammates to tell the two twins apart. That isn't an issue for Cliff, who knows his brothers' every secret now that they have spent the past two years of college together.
Father, Cliff Sr., and mother, Debra, rarely miss home games or games that are within driving distance, making weekends very much a family affair for the McCrays. Cliff said the whole experience makes him swell with pride just envisioning the mark that his family has left on the UCF football program.
``Genetics are such a crazy thing because we all have the same body type, the same body quickness and a lot of the same attributes on the field. I really think they have a promising future here,'' Cliff said. ``I hope that they're a lot better than me. I just hope that I've left a mark these last couple of years. They have the potential to be better than me because they have bigger bodies and they are going to be stronger than me. So I think they have a bright future here at UCF.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.