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Phil Stukenborg | Commercial Appeal | September 24, 2014

Practice makes perfect

  Bobby McCain co-led the FBS with six interceptions for 108 interception return yards last year.

His second-favorite sport is baseball so, perhaps, that explains why Memphis defensive back Bobby McCain -- a former high school catcher -- appeared at ease fielding a loose football last weekend against Middle Tennessee.

And with his favorite sport being football, maybe that explains why he returned the fumble 59 yards, outracing the retreating Middle Tennessee offensive players down the left sideline to the end zone for an emphatic knockout score in Memphis' 36-17 victory.

For McCain, the touchdown represented yet another big play in the cornerback's career. Although it was his first fumble return for a score, he's had three interceptions returned for touchdowns, including a 75-yarder against Duke and a 36-yarder against South Florida last year. During his freshman season, he returned a pick 79 yards against Tulane to secure a 33-17 win in New Orleans.

  McCain has 12 career pass deflections.
"The football finds him," Tiger coach Justin Fuente said.

Fuente, whose 2-1 Tigers play at 10th-ranked Ole Miss Saturday, said McCain's penchant for making the big play isn't simply good fortune. McCain, one of former Tiger coach Larry Porter's top recruits, has combined his athletic ability with a solid work ethic.

"When he trusts his technique and does his job at corner and they throw it his way, he has a great knack for catching it," Fuente said. "And he was there on that fumble. Who else would you have thought would have picked it up and run it in?"

McCain has consistently been in position to make the big play. In last year's game at South Florida, he intercepted three passes to tie an American Athletic Conference record. Saturday night against MTSU, he showed the soft hands of a catcher scooping a low fastball in the dirt.

"I was actually going [to] get in there [and make the tackle] but I saw the ball pop out and it actually just popped into my hands," McCain said. "[Tiger linebacker] Tank Jakes made a great play coming from behind and getting the ball out and I just picked it up, took it in for the score and celebrated with my teammates."

McCain's big plays haven't been limited to defense. He had a 95-yard kickoff return -- the fourth-longest in school history -- against Duke as a sophomore. A few weeks later, he gained 61 yards on a fake punt pass from Tom Hornsey at Marshall. He also had a 52-yard kickoff return at Marshall.

"Once you get the ball in your hands you expect to score every time," McCain said. "You just want to make sure you take care of the ball."

Third-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom said McCain has created his reputation. He approaches practices as if they were games.

"If you look at the guys who make those plays on the practice fields, you'll usually see they're the ones making them in games," Odom said. "It's great practice habits, preparation habits, it's being assignment sound and technique sound, and being in the right spot. And when you're in that spot, it's having the ability to make the play."

McCain finished with six interceptions last year for 108 return yards and he was the FBS's co-leader in interceptions per game (0.7 average).

"He has a playmaking ability that not everyone has," Tiger linebacker Wynton McManis said. "He's so focused and he pushes himself so hard to continue to make those plays. And when he doesn't make those plays, he's on himself so hard. That's how tough he is. That's why it works."

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