Watch now: ‘Young Buck’ Josh McCray shows promise as true freshman running back at IllinoisCollege Sports

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McCray, who had scholarship offers from a handful of Power Five programs, including Arkansas and South Carolina, said he chose Illinois because of the strong relationship he built with Bielema.

Since joining the program, he’s also established tight bonds with his more experienced teammates in the running back room: redshirt freshman Reggie Love III, sophomores Chase Brown and Jakari Norwood, junior Chase Hayden and super senior Mike Epstein.

“They all help me up front and help in my pass (protection),” McCray said. “And then every day whenever we go through the bag cutting drills, they help me with my footwork because I’m such a bigger guy. So just learning from them, they help me a lot.”

McCray said he didn’t really expect to play in his first year on campus, but after getting a taste of the action, he’s hungry for more. The freshman plans to continue building his body so that he can withstand the punishment that comes with being a tailback, while also dishing it out.

Brown believes he’s already put a few defenders on notice.

“Guys don’t want to get in front of that,” Brown said, laughing.

McCray said he’s proud of how much he’s grown physically and mentally as a player since making the 13-hour drive with his family from Enterprise, Alabama, to Champaign. But from his perspective, his college career isn’t just about him. The freshman’s phone was flooded with congratulatory messages after his debut against UTSA, reminding him that there are a lot of people drawing inspiration from his journey.

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