He calls him his godbrother.
He never played with him on the same youth team. He didn’t go to the same high school or college, and their age difference is almost four years. But if you ask Ray-Ray McCloud if he and Nelson Agholor are blood related, he’ll have a quick response for you.
“We might as well be,” he said.
McCloud first met Agholor when he was 10-years old. A dynamic running back on the youth football circuit in Tampa, McCloud was turning heads all around town.
“We both grew up in Tampa,” said Agholor. “Ray-Ray was like a little league phenom.”
Agholor saw similarities in their games. Both were tailbacks at the time, and both, more often than not, were making a lot of people miss.
A couple of years later, when Agholor was tearing up the high school ranks at Berkeley Prep as a running back, receiver and defensive back, McCloud would go to his games to watch him play.
“He came out to a couple of my high school games when he was deciding where he wanted to go to high school,” Agholor said. “When he got into high school, although there was an age gap, I’d watch him play. We both played tailback at that time. He was a really talented tailback.”
McCloud, who would play at Sickles high school, rolled up almost 2,000 rushing yards his senior season with 17 touchdowns. After a high school career that tallied more than 5,700 yards on the ground, he was a highly recruited college prospect.
Though McCloud had a solid upbringing with parents who taught him responsibility and discipline, the talented tailback had so much in common with Agholor, he simply gravitated toward him.
“In high school when Nelson went to USC, I followed him even more,” said McCloud. “He helped me get ahead of the game and taught me stuff that he didn’t know when he was my age at the time.”
Soon it was McCloud who was getting recruiting letters and phone calls from power five conference schools. He thought of one person to help him with the college recruiting process
“We’d stay in touch all through the time he was getting recruited, especially by USC and the other schools,” said Agholor. “I just took interest in him because I always thought he was a good player, and I was very close to him.”
Dedication to craft
McCloud ultimately chose Clemson, who never really gave the talented tailback a defined role. He spent time as a returner, wide receiver and even defensive back in his time with the Tigers. Receiver and returner wound up being where he lined up most.
Agholor, who also transitioned to receiver at USC again had something in common.
“We kind of played similar roles, tailbacks who ended up playing receiver,” said Agholor. “So I just wanted to make sure he was always polishing his receiver skills. Every chance we got in the offseason whether I was coming home from college, or I was in the league and he was in college we’d just work out, work technique stuff and get on the conditioning tip and things like that.”
Agholor’s approach in the offseason spoke volumes to McCloud. Despite two pedestrian seasons with the Eagles in 2015 and 2016 and heavy criticism from the Eagles fans for his lack of production, the Philadelphia slot receiver only redoubled his efforts to improve.
“After his first two years didn’t go so well, he wasn’t himself” said McCloud. “He was doing his thing, but he wasn’t the Nelson Agoholor I knew. Everybody was down on him after his first year. He’d talk to me about that all the time. He’d tell me, ‘I’m just going to put my head down and work.’ And that’s what he did. You see his success. I felt like this past year he showed everyone what he’s capable of.”
Agholor’s stat line of 62 receptions for almost 800 yards and eight touchdowns on a Super Bowl-winning club was more than enough to convince McCloud to shoot for the same thing after the Bills made him a sixth-round pick this past spring.
“When he got drafted I was so excited,” said Agholor of McCloud. “Even at the combine watching him when he was there. There’s one thing I know about him is he’s a player. He’s going to find a way to make plays in this league. He just has to make sure he doesn’t worry about where he was drafted. He just has to know his worth and that somebody needs him.”
On a Bills receiving corps that has a lot of unproven players, McCloud is working to stand out to seize a regular role. He’s also in the mix among the punt return candidates. Through the spring practices he maintained constant contact with Agholor knowing he’s been through it before.
What the practices are like. The speed of the NFL game. All of it.
“I talked to him a lot about it. I kind of thought that would happen,” said McCloud of the game being faster. “You have faster defensive linemen, veteran corners who are reading different stuff than people at rookie camp are reading because they’re experienced. I just took it day by day.”
Agholor’s counsel covers more than just the game. It’s about everything around the game and the choices a young player has to make off the field.
“We stay in contact all the time about life decisions,” said Agholor. “I’m in his ear all the time about enjoying himself, but being responsible. I’ll never tell you exactly what to do, but I’ll tell you to stay away from the things that can hurt you.
“I’ve always stayed close with him in that way. He’s got a great family. His dad and mom raised him well, but to have another player in this league to always make sure you’re doing things the right way is important.”
And McCloud is supremely appreciative to have a person in the league he can trust implicitly. He knows the kind of guidance Agholor can provide can only help him in his quest to land a role in Buffalo’s receiving corps.
“I’m just going to work and do what I’m asked,” said McCloud, sounding a lot like Agholor as a rookie.
“When the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to take advantage of it.”