TALLAHASSEE — For Florida State DT Moses McCray, the toughest times are Saturdays.
"It's okay for me until game day," he said.
Instead of racing out of the tunnel onto the field and then trying to help his teammates win football games, the former Hillsborough High standout is a spectator, watching from home or at Doak Campbell Stadium, maintaining a safe distance from the sideline. McCray tore his left ACL during the first week of practice and had surgery on the knee this month, ending what he and his coaches hoped would be a breakout season before it even began.
"I still go to meetings," he said. "I still lift. I still talk to the guys to try to keep them up."
All of that helps the psyche when you're out, and McCray, 20, who started as a freshman in 2008 and played in 12 games as a sophomore despite elbow and shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery, is remarkably upbeat. In fact, he said this year will help him improve as a player.
"It's different outside the box because you see a lot more than when you're playing," McCray said. "I'm not going to say I like sitting out, but I kind of like the feeling of learning more."
"Sometimes as an injured player, it can put a perspective on things because you really get to sit back and see what the coach sees,'' added coach Jimbo Fisher. "When they come back, it can really help them become better players because of the perspective and the world that got opened up to them from seeing things in a different light. But he's done a great job of that, and he's been a very good team leader, and he's done a good job with our young defensive linemen.''
McCray also is using the year to focus on his academics and has an eye toward a second degree before his five years are up. As for his return to the field, he's looking at possibly spring practice.
"I'm recovering pretty fast," he said. "But I'm not rushing it."
Chapter 2: Fisher enjoyed last week's win for, oh, about five minutes before his attention shifted to Saturday's showdown against Wake Forest (2-1, 1-0 ACC).
"The season now begins," he said. "The preseason's over."
That's not to suggest he didn't want to win his first three games. But he recognizes this one looms far larger for his Seminoles (2-1) — it is their ACC opener and if Fisher and his team are to regain national relevancy, they must start out by regaining that status among their league brethren.
The Seminoles won at least a share of the ACC title the first nine years they were in the league (1992-2000) and 11 of their first dozen years. They rolled up a 98-6 record in ACC play during that time.
But after winning the ACC again in 2005, the first time the conference had a championship game, they've come up empty of that goal. In the past four years, they were a mere 16-16 in league play.
History lesson: Speaking of the ACC opener, the Seminoles have lost that game the past three years, one of which came against Wake Forest. That home loss on Sept. 20, 2008 was QB Christian Ponder's first ACC start, a game he'd just as soon forget. He had essentially promised a win and then, on his first play, threw the first of three interceptions.
"I was young and naïve," he said. "Obviously, they came out motivated, and the first play of the game I go out and throw a pick, and I just let that frustrate me the rest of the game."
Hitting home: Ponder and Houston QB Case Keenum met a couple of summers ago at a camp run by former FSU Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. Ponder and Keenum were counselors this summer at the Manning Passing Academy. Now they share another experience.
Keenum, a prolific passer and a preseason candidate for the Heisman, sustained a season-ending knee injury last weekend when he tried to make a tackle after he threw an interception. Ponder missed the last four games of the 2009 season (and needed surgery) when he made a tackle after throwing a pick.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Follow his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/seminoles.