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Nice Article on Jameel McClain from YAHOO sports

 

Thanks to the October Surprise that sent a future Hall of Fame wideout away from one all-time great quarterback and into the arms of another, an already intriguing Week 5 of the NFL season just got even spicier.

 

After a Sunday on which Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) returns to Carolina, Peyton Manning(notes) tries to take down the league’s last undefeated team and Kurt Warner(notes) waltzes back to University of Phoenix Stadium (alas, Cardinals fans, he’ll spend the afternoon in a FOX broadcast booth), we’ll get our Monday-night matchup for the ages, with Brett Favre(notes) throwing to Randy Moss(notes) in the shadow of the Big Apple against his other former team.

Quietly, with little fanfare, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain(notes) will be doing his part for the NFL’s top-ranked defense in a home game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. And as much as I love chronicling the movements of the stars – like the guy who plays next to McClain, Ray Lewis(notes), who happens to be the best defensive player of his era – sometimes selfless players such as this third-year, undrafted free agent are the lifeblood of the sport.

Like Ravens teammate Michael Oher(notes), McClain took an unlikely path to the pros which required passion, perseverance and the overcoming of obstacles. In Hollywood pitch-meeting terms, think “The Blind Side” meets “The Pursuit of Happyness,” with a touch of the “Rocky” movies (which McClain ritualistically watches to get pumped up before games).

“My life has been one boxing match after another,” McClain says. “No matter what gets thrown at me, I keep fighting.”

Raised in north Philadelphia, McClain was a Golden Gloves fighter from the fourth grade on; local legend Joe Frazier gave him his first pair of boxing shorts. McClain’s father was incarcerated for much of Jameel’s childhood, and his family struggled with poverty. There were periods of homelessness, and for an extended stretch Jameel, his three siblings and his mother lived in a Salvation Army rescue shelter.

“You’d just have nights where food was a figment of your stomach’s imagination, where you would go to sleep hungry,” McClain recalls. “Having the same jeans weeks at a time, sharing a room at the shelter with strangers and having to be there by a certain time, worrying that people were going to come in your room after you were asleep and mess with you … there were some tough times.

“It’s not something I made public, not something I was comfortable talking about or sharing in conversation. I guess it would be embarrassing for anybody with pride, to know you don’t have a place you can call home.”

McClain took solace in small pleasures, such as the late-night doughnuts a local retailer would deliver to the shelter.

“They’d have leftovers at the end of the day, and they’d donate them instead of throwing them away,” he recalls. “I can still remember the smell – when the doughnuts came late at night, it was a big deal.”

Determined to improve his circumstances, McClain pushed himself athletically and academically, earning a scholarship to Syracuse, where he was a standout defensive end. His disappointment about being passed over in the NFL draft gave way to excitement about the prospect of joining “the defense I’ve always dreamed of playing for.”

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who saw McClain as a prototypical inside linebacker in then-coordinator Rex Ryan’s scheme, pursued him aggressively as a free agent immediately after the draft.

 

[Blog: Did Ravens eject couple for kissing?]

 

“Actually, 32 teams passed on me,” McClain says, “but the Ravens gave me the opportunity to come in and show what I could do. They expressed a lot of interest. From what I heard, it was rare for a free agent to get the GM, coach and linebackers coach all calling and saying, ‘We want you here. We know you’re our type of player.’

“Baltimore was clearly the choice. I played the game the same way they played it, so to me it was a no-brainer. Their demeanor fit my style. I play till the whistle is blown and the play is done, completely, and I don’t back off.”

McClain beat the odds and made the team as a rookie. He then made an immediate impact, recording two safeties, a blocked punt, two-and-a-half sacks and 17 special-teams tackles. The 6-foot-1, 250-pounder had 33 special-teams tackles in ’09 and another 29 stops on defense, along with a forced fumble.

<!-- {PHOTO} -->

McClain listens to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
(Geoff Burke/US Presswire) <!-- {PHOTO ENDS} -->

 

This past summer, he took his game to another level by winning a training-camp competition with incumbent Dannell Ellerbe(notes) and former third-round pick Tavares Gooden(notes) to become the starter next to Lewis at inside linebacker. McClain has 25 tackles and a pass defended and is holding his own in a defensive unit allowing a league-low 235.8 yards per game.

He’s also making a point of spending off days in the community speaking at shelters – he volunteers for the Salvation Army, among other organizations – and counseling at-risk children.

He has no patience for politicians who talk about slashing social services as a means of freeing up funds: “It’s people speaking on things that they don’t know anything about. To them, you exist only in their imagination, so when they talk about cutting those services, you’re not really real and they don’t have to consider the effect it will have on you.”

McClain lives a relatively modest lifestyle because, he says, “I’m trying to be in a position so I never again have to go through what I went through as a kid.”

He does allow himself a few luxuries, such as a robust collection of jeans – “enough pairs that I can’t count ‘em all in my head.”

There is one guilty pleasure, however, that McClain is happy to resist.

“I don’t like doughnuts too much now,” he says. “I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had one.”

His stomach is no longer rumbling, but rest assured he still plays hungry.

 

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