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Ex-Hillsborough football star must adapt quickly

Defensive tackle Moses McCray understood the situation long before he arrived in Tallahassee.

With about 10 key players out because of their involvement in an academic misconduct scandal — many of them projected defensive starters — the ex-Hillsborough High standout knew he would be in a position to play immediately as a freshman.

"I'm pretty used to growing up fast and getting the hang of things pretty quick," he said this summer. (Under a new policy, football newcomers have been off-limits to the media since the start of preseason practice.)

That will be put to the test in the opener against Western Carolina (1-0) on Saturday night.

With interior linemen Budd Thacker, Paul Griffin and Justin Mincey suspended and Emmanuel Dunbar injured, McCray is expected not only to play, but start. He's one of 13 freshmen on the two-deep depth chart. Not that the 6-foot-2, 268-pound McCray is likely to be overwhelmed by the situation.

"He's one of the most talented kids I've had come in here," defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins said. "He's a great worker. Sometimes this summer, (strength and conditioning coach Todd Stroud) had to slow him down."

McCray showed that relentless determination at Hillsborough in football, track and field, and wrestling, a sport that is all about leverage, balance and footwork, three of the biggest must-have qualities for a top-shelf defensive tackle.

"I didn't think I was going to be that good when I first started (wrestling) in the 11th grade. But when I got the hang of it, I started beating everybody, and I really started to like it," McCray said. "I noticed it did help football, and then I really started liking it."

"He's not going to back down from anybody," Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia said. "He's as competitive as heck. You can hide sometimes on the football field. You can't hide on the wrestling mat."

It was McCray's love of wrestling that played into his decision not to graduate early from high school and enroll at Florida State in January. But when his mother, Vanessa, got sick (she's better now), he had to ease up on his commitment to wrestling in order to work.

"I did construction. We refurbished a house," he said. "I'd been exposed to it but never really hands-on before."

He simply jumped in and got the job done.

Hmm.

"He doesn't take things for granted," Haggins said. "He's passionate about football. He's passionate about working out. He's passionate about doing the right things. You can win with kids like that."

Tough times: Tight end Caz Piurowski, a former Land O'Lakes High standout, would have been starting Saturday were it not for his part in the academic misconduct. Instead, he and some of the other suspended players likely will gather at one of their homes and watch the game. They aren't allowed on the sideline, and they weren't given tickets.

"I've been trying to think positive about it," Piurowski said. "Of course, it's tough for me knowing that I'm preparing and the rest of the team is going to go out there and the first three games and I'm not going to be able to help them win or be able to enjoy that with them. But I've tried to take it as a chance for me to step up and be a leader to some of the younger guys, especially the tight ends."

Senior walk-on Josh Dobbie, from Valrico's Bloomingdale High, is expected to start. He had no catches last season, including in the Music City Bowl. Freshman Bo Reliford should be his backup.

Piurowski said he has learned from the scandal and grown from it, yet still feels the pain that he disappointed his parents and let his teammates, the university and fans down. Needless to say, the Colorado game, the first game for which he and most of the others will be back, can't get here soon enough.

He said it: "We're looking forward to getting started this Saturday. It seems like half the season is already gone and we haven't even played because we usually open up so early." — coach Bobby Bowden.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347. Check out his blog at blogs. tampabay.com/seminoles.

Ex-Hillsborough football star must adapt quickly 09/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 3, 2008 11:30pm]

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