NC State’s Nick McCloud couldn’t have known something was wrong when the punt returner turned his back and planted his foot in the painted grass. Under normal circumstances, the motion would have been a display of doomed arrogance and empty panache. He or Stephen Morrison, both gunners, would have corralled the troublemaker and trotted back to the sideline. The first quarter would have gone on, and the no. 20 NC State Wolfpack might have built on their lead over the no. 4 Clemson Tigers.
These circumstances, however, were not normal. McCloud’s own name and number were stitched into the returner’s jersey, orange print on white cloth. The special teamer’s doppelgänger had arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he carried misfortune and ruin with him like some men carried the football.
Ray-Ray McCloud brought chaos to Carter-Finley Stadium, and all Nick McCloud could do was swipe at the air as the returner lifted his foot and raced upfield.
11 men tried to tackle Ray-Ray, and all 11 failed. 9 of those men fell to the ground before he completed his slashing 77-yard scamper into the end zone. The touchdown was a twisted sort of wild goose chase; McCloud left several defenders grasping at air, and he left the rest on the ground, where they might bury their faces in the hash marks to hide their shame. McCloud’s entourage did their duty as blockers, but this particular piece of wizardry was the work of the returner. He glided toward the end zone with Isaiah Simmons at his side.
The touchdown and its accompanying extra point tied the game at 7-7. The assembled Wolfpack faithful raised their arms and shook their heads, but there was nothing they could do to reverse the magic of the McCloud in orange and white. The Tigers won 38-31.
Ray-Ray recorded 0 receptions that day. He rushed for 0 yards. His entire recorded offensive contribution took place over a period of 20 seconds. That moment, though, was sublime. It’s the moment for which I’ll remember him as a college football player. For those 20 seconds on November 4, McCloud looked like a man who could take the football world for a wild spin around the block.
He never did take the college football world on that wild ride, but he’s no longer a part of that world. Ray-Ray McCloud is entering the dark, strange world of professional football. The unknown waits for him in a place where even the most talented players can quickly become the victims of circumstance.
McCloud shouldn’t worry, though. He knows a thing or two about chaos.