BOONE, N.C. — When he first enrolled at Appalachian State University in fall 2009, Demetrius McCray made a promise to his mother he would earn a degree. McCray, from Long Beach, California, was recruited and awarded an athletic scholarship to attend and play football at Appalachian.
McCray played four seasons of football as a Mountaineer and entered the NFL draft the spring of 2013 during his senior year. He had finished his classroom requirements but had not completed the internship needed to graduate and earn his B.S. in criminal justice. Students usually spend an entire semester working with an approved criminal justice agency to fulfill the required internship for the degree.
McCray said, “I was close to graduation (in 2013). I didn’t do my internship that spring because I was training to go into the NFL.”
This fall, he completed his internship. McCray is among the 1,628 undergraduate and graduate students who have applied to receive their degrees in December.
He was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the seventh round and played in the cornerback position for three seasons, in which he tallied 86 combined tackles. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in fall 2017 and suffered a season-ending knee injury during his third game.
McCray knew he was prolonging his pursuit of a degree by entering the NFL draft, but said he fully intended to finish someday. “I always said I’d finish what I started at App State and get my degree. I made a promise to my mother and told her I’d give her my diploma to hang on the wall,” he said.
As a first-generation college student on both sides of his family, McCray said, “My coming to Appalachian was a big accomplishment for both me and my family. The athletic scholarship was life changing. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without it.”
While a serious injury might be discouraging for a professional athlete, McCray said he saw it as an opportunity. “I thought this would be the perfect time to finish my degree.”
Joey Jones, associate athletics director for strategic communications at Appalachian, said his department stays in contact with athletes who have left the university without earning their degrees, encouraging completion when the time is right.
McCray said he looks forward to graduation. “Finishing my degree will only help me in the future. I may or may not go back to playing football. In my current field, a degree is needed.”
During the fall 2018 semester, McCray interned with the sheriff’s office in Jacksonville, Florida. As an intern, he split his time among seven divisions, which exposed him to many aspects of police work:
- Ride-alongs with officers on patrol.
- Taking pictures and working with ballistics experts on crime scenes.
- Assisting detectives with burglaries, homicide, economic crime and assault investigations.
- Working inside a corrections center.
- Warrants and identification.
- Serving in dispatch and receiving calls.
In addition to the traditional duties within the office, McCray worked with children in an after-school program with the Police Athletic League.
McCray said, “Gaining real-life experience with my internship was eye-opening. I sometimes struggled in the classroom, especially early on. Now I’ve had real-life situations, having to pay bills, so I have a different perspective. I have a daughter, who is now 3, so planning for the future is even more important.”
To other student-athletes, McCray advised, “Stay focused. It’s hard to do, with classes and sports. Manage your time well, and get your degree first, because being a student comes first, before being an athlete. Getting an education opens a lot of doors.”
About the Department of Government and Justice Studies
Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies offers undergraduate programs in political science and criminal justice, and graduate programs in political science and public administration. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department has over 600 undergraduate majors and more than 70 graduate students. Learn more at https://gjs.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Mountaineer Athletics
More than 450 student-athletes compete in 20 NCAA Division I varsity sports at Appalachian State University, 10 for men and 10 for women. Appalachian was a dominant force in the Southern Conference for more than 40 years before joining the Sun Belt Conference in July 2014 — one of 10 conferences that are members of the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The Mountaineer football team claimed back-to-back 10-win seasons and bowl victories in 2015 and 2016, providing a catalyst for comprehensive excellence to grow across all Appalachian sports while competing at the highest levels of college athletics. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu/athletics.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.