Roger McCreary’s journey to the Tennessee Titans began with tough love
In 2017, during football practice at Williamson High School in Mobile, Alabama, Antonio Coleman chewed up Roger McCreary.
Defensive coordinator Coleman sensed his senior star was springing into action. McCreary’s level of activity seemed nonchalant, so Coleman reminded him that next for him was Power Five football, where a delay could cost his team a touchdown. Falling behind in the NFL could cost him his job.
“Do it right all the time!” Coleman told McCreary. “Do it right every time!”
McCreary didn’t respond or pout.
He is crying.
“Coach, I apologize,” he said through tears. “I understand exactly what you are saying.”
As Coleman says now, “It really let me know that the game of football and what I was saying to him really meant something to him.”
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Almost five years later, McCreary began his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans. A second-round draft pick, he will compete for the starting snaps at cornerback and nickelback during his rookie season.
In the offseason program, McCreary is already impressing his new coaches with his mindset.
“He wants to have the right answers all the time and that’s unrealistic as a rookie,” defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said.
It’s an approach shaped by his upbringing.
“It has often been said that he had ice water in his veins”
Felicia James, McCreary’s mother, has instilled a routine in her son since he was a child.
She had given birth to him before starting 10th grade. When he was 2 years old, he went with her to his high school basketball practices and games, and they always went out. A single mother, she taught him how to catch a football and a baseball. How to dribble and throw a basketball. He also played football.
James had him shuttle between practices and the park as he grew older. If work got in the way of taking her to the next sport or activity, she had someone waiting to do it for her.
Keeping McCreary busy and his mind focused was a priority for James. The free time increased his chances of drifting onto the streets of their Mobile neighborhood, where shootings and stabbings were commonplace. Bad influences landed a nephew who grew up with McCreary in prison.
So she automated her son’s schedule. If he wasn’t at school or playing sports, he was at home getting ready for bed or waking up getting ready for the day.
“I just try to keep my head straight instead of going left,” James said.
James played football growing up. She was a nose tackle and linebacker, playing on organized teams in Mobile with boys. She has built a reputation as a hard-hitting hitter, according to Coleman.
A strict discipline, a vocal James could speak with authority on football, where his son played in multiple positions in all three phases for Williamson.
“She was one of those parents who would insult me if I didn’t do (well) in the game. She would insult the coach,” McCreary said. “That’s the kind of strong, tough love she would give still.”
It fueled his drive.
Since high school, he has worked days. At Williamson, McCreary called Coleman to open the weight room on Saturdays and Sundays. On Mondays at Auburn, McCreary came into the football offices eager to find a competitive edge against the elite receivers the Tigers faced each week in the SEC.
McCreary could take a piece of information once and be able to absorb it and apply it, Auburn defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge said. If there’s something he’s unsure about, he’ll ask about it, preferring to pull the coach to the side for a one-on-one chat.
“He understands formations, splits and on-field alignment and what that tells him is coming,” said Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, McCreary’s defensive coordinator at Auburn from 2018-20. isn’t just there to cover roads and keep people out. He’s a smart guy who studies the game, understands the concepts and what people are trying to do to him.
Despite his smaller frame — the Titans list him at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds — McCreary excelled as an outside cornerback at Auburn, where he led the SEC and tied for seventh in the FBS in passes defended. last season. His former coaches point to his strength as a key part of his single coverage success.
Coleman recalled that McCreary weighed 355 pounds when he weighed around 170 pounds in high school.
“I wasn’t on the bench a lot and I was a defensive lineman,” said Coleman, who played two seasons in the NFL after his own career at Auburn. “So you could tell there was something special about him.”
McCreary’s demeanor is unwavering on the court, according to his former coaches. He remains emotionally neutral after good or bad games.
“We often said he had ice water running through his veins,” Steele said. “Nothing bothered him.”
“I always tell him to stay in the moment”
At the end of each season, on the Friday night before the final game, Etheridge honors his senior defensive backs who leave the program. They go bowling. Expectations for the final game are discussed.
For the 2021 restitution, at the team hotel, McCreary got up to speak. The clarity and delivery of his message about the next day’s Iron Bowl against Alabama floored Etheridge. It set the whole room on fire, he said. McCreary had never spoken like that before.
He then had perhaps the best game of his career in the quadruple overtime thriller, a loss to Auburn. McCreary posted four of the Tigers’ seven pass breakups. He locked in future first-rounder Jameson Williams and second-rounder John Metchie III.
The performance cemented his status as the top cornerback in the 2022 draft.
“Everything (we had) worked on from the time I came in (to Auburn) for one of the biggest games of his career and against these top receivers he was just in a different mode and you could just say it paid off in this game,” Etheridge said.
It meant Coleman’s message four years prior – when he tore McCreary apart in training – had paid off.
He took nothing for granted before and during the game of his life.
“Our relationship will always be great because it’s about Roger achieving whatever he wants to do at the highest level and enjoying life and working hard because he’s earned every moment he has. right now,” Coleman said.
“I always tell him to stay in the moment.”