Competition Confirms Character of Justin McCray

Get to know versatile offensive lineman Justin McCray and the path he took to the NFL. 

Anyone that’s ever had the pleasure of getting to know Justin McCray understands that he’s one of the most courteous, hardworking, and down-to-earth individuals on the planet. The fact that he plays in the NFL is just an additional part of his character arc. 

Earlier in July, I reached out to Justin about potentially writing a story about him for Cheesehead TV. Within hours, Justin had responded with an offer for me to come up to Green Bay to meet with him in person for an interview. 

Over the next few weeks, those plans developed into grabbing lunch together at Cheesecake Heaven, one of Justin’s favorite spots to get food in Green Bay.

The second Justin walked through the door, he was smiling. Over the next hour, it became readily apparent to me that smiling is something Justin does a lot. 

As immediately as he had come through the door, he shook my hand and we hopped in line for some food. I asked for his favorite thing on the menu, and he recommended the tuna melt. But I had to add bacon, because I quickly learned that Justin likes to add bacon to almost anything. 

Justin had just come from check-in at St. Norbert College where he’ll be staying for the next few weeks during training camp, a team tradition since 1958. 

We grabbed a table and began talking about Justin’s life. Let me just say, Justin is one of the easiest people on the planet to talk to. Not five seconds after meeting he was telling me stories about growing up in Miami, and then before I could react he had already paid for our lunch. 

Personable doesn’t even begin to cover it, but I’ll let his story tell itself from here. 

In 2014, Justin signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted rookie. He spent the entire season there before being released during his second training camp in 2015. 

That whole season, Justin and his twin brother Jordan went home to Miami to train. It was then that they received a call from Mike DiJulio, the general manager for the Orlando Predators, giving them the opportunity to come play arena football. The brothers agreed and spent the 2016 season with the Predators. To them, it was close to home, and it was still football. 

The owner of the team also owned Westgate Resorts, a luxury resort company in Orlando, and he gave the brothers a job there. Justin started out as a golf cart attendant before working as a bellman the last few months he was in Orlando. 

The entire time Justin and Jordan were working at Westgate, they were also working out and training, preparing themselves for their next NFL opportunity. It was actually Jordan who suggested the brothers go back to their Pro Day at UCF and work out. 

That’s when everything started to change for Justin.

During UCF’s Pro Day, Justin caught the eye of a Green Bay scout. 

Going to Green Bay was surreal for Justin, who admitted initially he felt as though he was probably just a camp body. His goal? 

“I need to make the most of my opportunity here, so hopefully, if not Green Bay, somebody sees me and somebody wants me,” said Justin.

Justin McCray during the 2018 Preseason.

Justin McCray during the 2018 Preseason.

That’s exactly what happened as Justin made the 53-man roster right out of training camp in 2017. What’s more, he found himself in the starting lineup as early as Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, playing at a position he hadn’t played since college (right tackle). 

As we sit and eat our tuna melts, with bacon of course, Justin begins describing what motivates him. As he begins his third training camp as a Green Bay Packer, it’s important for him to acknowledge his past and what drives him when he steps onto the practice field each day. 

Growing up in Miami, Justin played football and wrestled all through high school. As the two biggest boys on their football team, the team coached by their father, Justin played left tackle and Jordan played right tackle. 

In a run-heavy offense, Justin made a name for himself by making 63 pancake blocks during his high school career and never allowing a single sack. 

In addition to wrestling and football, Justin also did track his senior year. 

“I was actually very bad at track,” said Justin with a laugh. “I was awful. I thought, because I was strong, I’d be good at discus and shot put. But I wasn’t.”

The brothers attended the University of Central Florida together, both switching their majors to communication their sophomore years. Justin with a finance minor and Jordan with a marketing minor. 

“I figured that I wanted to be an analyst or broadcaster or something like that and I figured it couldn’t hurt to have better communication skills,” said Justin about his decision to switch from a business major to communication major. 

His goal after he’s done playing football is to stick around the game in some capacity, whether that’s through coaching or in the front office of a team. When I asked if he’d be interested in scouting, Justin acknowledged that, too, saying he understands what it can take for guys to get recognized by the NFL, citing himself and his brother as two examples. He’d like to be able to give someone an opportunity they may not have had previously through his scouting. 

In high school, Justin lettered four years in both football and wrestling. In college, he was a four-year letterman in football with 32 starts, 23 at right guard and 9 at right tackle. He was a first-team All-American in the Athletic Conference and won the Fiesta Bowl with the Knights in 2014. Additionally, he finished his senior season ranked 10th in the country by the Associated Press.

That versatility lent itself to Justin making the 53-man roster once again in 2018, after a 2017 campaign that saw him make eight starts: five at right tackle, two at left guard, and one at right guard. In 2017, Justin played every position except center, even filling in at left tackle during Week 6. 

In 2018, Justin was given the opportunity to start at right guard during the season opener against the Chicago Bears. Throughout the season, he played in 12 games with five starts. 

For Justin, his versatility is what allows him to play. And while he’d love to latch onto one position and be a starter, he knows the more he can do, the better chance he has of playing. If he had to rank them, though, he prefers either guard spot, then right tackle, then center, and left tackle last.

“Left tackle is definitely my least favorite,” he laughed. “I’ll do it if asked.”

We began talking about this year’s training camp, and what Justin plans to emphasize going into his third season in Green Bay. 

For starters, it’s about establishing a role on the team. Every day, he emphasizes one element of his game to work on and make sure he’s getting better. And the preseason? 

“I still have the mindset every year that I’m trying to make a team,” said Justin. “Any time I get the chance to play, I try not to take it for granted because I remember the two seasons I was out. I’d see preseason games just wishing I could be out there.”

We segue into the Packers hosting a joint practice with the Texans, something Justin has only experienced one other time. 

“It’ll be fun because we’re going against somebody different. I did a joint practice when I was in Tennessee, and we went to Atlanta when they were on Hard Knocks,” said Justin. “That was my first camp too so I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought everybody did it every year.”

I asked Justin, in his opinion, if it’s better to have a strong training camp or a strong preseason. His response? Try to do both, of course. 

“If you have a so-so camp and a really strong preseason, all of the NFL sees the preseason. So you’ll probably catch on with another team if things didn’t go your way in the actual games,” started Justin. “But if you have a strong camp, the only team that sees it is the team you’re with.

“It’s best to just do both. Just do well in both,” he laughed.

As much of an impact as Justin wants to make on the field, he also cares about the impression he’s leaving off it, too. 

He tells me about going to help out at Geronimo Allison’s camp in Tampa this past offseason, and the effect it had on the kids in the area. Seeing the way Geronimo interacted with the kids was a highlight for Justin. (Geronimo is also his pick for player to watch on offense during training camp, by the way.)

Justin and his brother go back to their high school and help out at a summer league for kids 12-and-under to play football. He uses Jordan as a prime example for kids to aspire to.

“Jordan hasn’t been in a camp in five years and now he’s back on a team. Just being able to tell them, if you work hard, good things usually end up happening.

“Every now and then, kids need that,” he added. “I like being able to do that.”

He then emphasizes the impact his father has made even after his retirement from coaching, mentioning that players who graduated high school in the 90s will still talk about how much his dad influenced their life. 

Both of his parents, really, are his biggest supporters. We joke about his brother landing with the Chicago Bears, and how his mom is going to have to manage swapping jerseys depending on which McCray brother is on offense. 

The warm weather-loving McCray parents have been through a lot to see their son Justin play football, braving plenty of cold weather to support him. With a dad from Florida and a mom from Georgia, the trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin is no easy task in the winter. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“No matter how far we come, our parents are always in us” #Maddogg #Olgirl

A post shared by Justin McCray (@jdmc64) on

As lunch winds down, I ask Justin about his childhood in Miami and whether or not that made him a big Dolphins fan growing up. Would that mean that Dan Marino was his all-time favorite?

“I feel like I’m inclined to say Aaron,” laughed Justin. “But growing up I liked Marino a lot.”

I follow up by asking him, in an alternate universe, who his dream quarterback to block for would be if it wasn't Aaron Rodgers.

“Steve Young, just because he’s super athletic. He was a pretty good runner, too,” said Justin. “He could probably get you out of a jam or two if you missed.”

“I like quarterbacks who can run and pass,” he added. He plays with perhaps one of the best in the NFL at doing just that. 

But one of his favorite players to watch growing up was Barry Sanders. 

“I thought I was going to be a running back growing up. But I just got a little too big.”

In fact, being “too big” is what kept Justin from playing football in middle school. He was over the weight limit and didn’t get the chance to play until high school, so soccer and wrestling kept him busy in the meantime. 

Justin feels as though both of those sports helped to improve his foot quickness and leverage when he did start playing offensive line. 

While Justin is most well-known for being an NFL player, fans should also get to know him for his warm personality and his infectious smile. Even if you’re just meeting for the first time, you’ll leave feeling as though you’ve been lifelong friends. 

Justin, who enjoys watching anime on his days off, his current favorite being One Punch Man

Justin, who makes sure to emphasize that he’s 120 seconds older than his twin brother Jordan, because it sounds better than saying two minutes. 

Justin, who has the same ritual before every game. First, he’ll call his older brother who’s a pastor, and the two will pray together. Then, he takes care of his on-field apparel. Left sock. Right sock. Left shoe. Right shoe. Tie left shoe. Tie right shoe. And if it’s not that exact order, he’ll start again. 

As training camp gets going, Justin will be competing with the rest of a deep offensive line unit for a spot on the 53-man roster. 

Competing is nothing new to Justin, though, given the path he took to the NFL. 

Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and a podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (18)

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PackfanNY's picture

July 26, 2019 at 05:53 am

Thanks Maggie. Nice to read about the human side of a player. Something tells me their are a lot of Justin McCrays’ in the NFL. Happy he is on the Packers.

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BoCallahan's picture

July 26, 2019 at 05:59 am

I love the personal stories. For me, it turns the guys from numbers into people. I honestly think it is stories like this which could be done through the offseason to help add content to the non football months. It would be interesting to know how many players you reached out to before you landed an interview. I’m also curious if Justin was familiar with CHTV and if he ever checks it out. Thanks for the story Maggie, I hope you have the opportunity to bring more numbers to life.

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Slim11's picture

July 26, 2019 at 06:28 am

I enjoy stories like this. Well done!

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Mark King's picture

July 26, 2019 at 06:55 am

Great Story ! Love this kind of stuff!

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NickPerry's picture

July 26, 2019 at 07:28 am

Thanks Maggie, I know for myself personally as a fan I forget these guys are human too. It's great to be reminded these guys are just like you and me...Just a HELL of a lot bigger.

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Razer's picture

July 26, 2019 at 08:26 am

I'll echo what others have posted. Great job Maggie. Sometimes we get so consumed in the Packers winning that we forget about the people that sweat and hurt for these victories. When you learn about how players got to the show and what they do for their communities, you get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

Good Luck Justin

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LeotisHarris's picture

July 26, 2019 at 08:47 am

Thank you, Maggie. I very much enjoyed reading this piece. Being able to tell a story is at the heart of good writing, and you are an exceptional storyteller. I hope to see more of this type of article here. Perhaps you could feature past players as well; guys who were not major stars or those who have seemingly disappeared. B.J. Raji comes to mind.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 26, 2019 at 09:09 am

It’s also a good life lesson. Work hard keep a good spirit, be genuine and generous yet realistic. Good for him and I wish him well in life.

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J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

July 26, 2019 at 10:01 am

awesome story! keep up the good work!

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TimBackes's picture

July 26, 2019 at 10:16 am

Loved this! Awesome work Maggie.

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BoCallahan's picture

July 26, 2019 at 11:32 am

The response to this article is convincing proof that this type of article ought to be a regular on this sight.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

July 26, 2019 at 12:07 pm

Not really a fan of this type of story but this was really well done.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 26, 2019 at 12:12 pm

This was a pretty nice insight into a good guy.

Here are the numbers: The Packers 5 starters will be joined on gameday by 2, or 3 backups with probably one more inactive.

Jenkins, of course. Probably Spriggs at Left Tackle. Would you guys consider McCray as the last gameday guy? Will Madison be the last gameday guy, the inactive 53 guy, or the practice squad guy?

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flackcatcher's picture

July 26, 2019 at 07:12 pm

With this team, it always comes down to health. McCray took one for the team on the season opener. Playing when he should have been on the IR with that shoulder. If his shoulder is football ready (by Packer standards) he should be one of the core players one the line. He can play both tackle positions, both guard positions and in a pinch center too. Surprisingly light on his feet and has an excellent base. If the Packers cut him, he will get the call, be gone and signed by another team the end of the day.

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NitschkeFan's picture

July 26, 2019 at 08:56 pm

I’m sorry to say anything harsh about him as the article makes him sound like a really nice guy. But he stunk at tackle last year. Maybe, just maybe he can play guard but with Jenkins / Turner / Taylor also fighting for guard spots, I have trouble finding a spot for McCray.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 26, 2019 at 02:05 pm

Very nice article. Mr. McCray sounds like a very nice person.

As always, Maggie, your prose flows very well. Your writing strikes me as very professional.

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Webs815's picture

July 27, 2019 at 09:20 am

Great article Maggie (I felt like I was at lunch with you two as well!). Rooting for this great young man and his brother.

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cleabrooks's picture

July 27, 2019 at 10:28 am

Another great article Maggie! Love hearing guys stories & Justin seems so down to earth. Hoping he can continue to impress & be with the Packers for many years to come. And now I need some bacon lol

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