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 (CAS) at Appalachian State University is home to 17 academic departments, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS 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. More than 6,400 student majors are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’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 400 student-athletes compete in 17 NCAA Division I varsity sports at Appalachian State University. App State’s nationally ranked football team has enjoyed unprecedented success at the highest level of Division I (Football Bowl Subdivision), with six bowl wins in its first six years at the FBS level and four Sun Belt Conference championships. The Mountaineers were a dominant force in the Southern Conference for more than 40 years before moving up to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. App State student-athletes in all sports pursue daily comprehensive excellence in academics, competition and community involvement. All varsity teams compete in the Sun Belt Conference, except for field hockey (MAC) and wrestling (SoCon). Learn more at https://appstatesports.com.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The 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 to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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