Josh McCray emerging in crowded backfield

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Fighting Illini have been hit by the injury bug at a couple of different positions this season, one of those being running back.

When sophomore Chase Brown and freshman Josh McCray showed out against Maryland it looked like there would not be any more worries about it. But that peace of mind only lasted a half, both Brown and McCray left the game with injuries.

The two backs combined for over 100 yards, Brown has been a known threat in the backfield but McCray’s emergence has been a nice surprise.

“Seeing his film in high school, first film I saw of him I just saw an explosive, dynamic, big, powerful back,” says head coach Bret Bielema. “And since he’s arrived, he’s done that repeatedly, demonstrated it.”

“Playing alongside Chase [Brown], Reggie [Love], Mike [Epstein], Jakari [Norwood], Chase Hayden, I really picked up a lot from them,” says McCray. “That’s really all I did, I watched them a lot everyday.”

The Illini will need to lean on the whole room to make up for injuries this year. A tough running game is what Bielema has built his teams around in the past. Only four games into his tenure, he is still building his version of the Illini, but he already has the backing of All-American and Illini Hall of Famer Kevin Hardy.

“He’s home where he wants to be and you know I felt the passion now that he has,” says Hardy. “When I was talking to him yesterday I told him, I told him straight up that I’m excited about him being here. I’m excited about the program because I think that they have the right man to get things back on track. And in talking to some of the players, they’re excited to play for him. And so I just think that there’s nothing but good things ahead.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.