James Franklin usually refrains from allowing true freshman from speaking to the media.
Saturday, the Vanderbilt coach made an exception.
Quarterback Johnny McCrary entered the postgame press conference with a huge smile on his face after participating in his first spring game — a 17-15 victory for the Black over the Gold at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The 18-year-old threw for 108 yards and a touchdown and the subsequent go-ahead two-point conversion that momentarily rallied the Gold from a 14-point deficit. Carey Spear won it for the Black just minutes later with a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
McCrary’s presence at the game was a statement in its own right. On Tuesday, his father, Gregory, died of a heart attack. He lost his mother when he was nine.
“He is such a strong kid,” senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said. “He has battled through so much adversity. To see him come back that quickly and carry himself the way he does, it is emotional for me. He always says, ‘Austyn, I look up to you.’ I’m like, ‘No dude, I look up to you.’ I’ve never been through anything like that. He is just handling it with unbelievable maturity.”
A four-star prospect from Decatur, Ga., McCrary graduated high school early and has been on campus since January. Rotating in with Patton Robinette on the Gold team, McCrary completed six of 13 passes and hooked up with Tip McKenzie for a 40-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“My teammates made it very easy on me,” McCrary said. “They were just like go out there and have fun.”
Franklin said the coaching staff and many members of the team will head to Atlanta for the funeral on Tuesday. Gregory McCrary, a former tight end for the Atlanta Falcons, was 61.
“He is a special kid,” Franklin said. “He is going to need this entire community’s support. He is going to need our team’s support.”