At 260 pounds, fullback Le'Ron McClain is a pile driver and a pain dispenser. To reflect his brutal blocking and sadistic running style, fans and teammates alike have given him nicknames such as "The McPain Train" and "The Hulk."
But while McClain finds these monikers endearing and entertaining, there's another self-proclaimed designation he feels might fit him best.
That's right, go ahead and call McClain a mama's boy, because this man – who just so happens to make a living as a human sledgehammer – has no problem admitting that all the toughness and determination he possesses derives from the woman he admires most.
"My mom, she is my heart," the 25-year-old proudly states. "She's the reason I am here now and the reason why I approach this game – and life – the way I do.
"When I think of determination, I think of my mom."
Growing up, life wasn't always easy for McClain and his family. After his mother, Gwen, decided that Le'Ron and his older brother, Chris, needed better opportunities, she moved the family out of the housing projects in Fort Wayne, Ind., when the boys were in junior high.
Their new home would become Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the family settled down, and Gwen continuously worked two jobs as her sons grew older. Though things were still difficult at times, Gwen was determined to give Le'Ron and Chris the best lives possible, all while instilling the values of hope, hard work and perseverance.
"Because of her, we had food in our mouths, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads," Le'Ron recalls. "Just seeing her do that every day, what she sacrificed for us while we were growing up, has always given me the motivation to succeed."
In order to graduate, every senior at Tuscaloosa County High School was required to take a final graduation examination. With a scholarship to the University of Alabama on the line, Le'Ron failed to pass his. Devastated, he sunk to what he considers one of the lowest and most disappointing times in his life.
"I didn't pass mine, and all my friends passed theirs and were able to walk at graduation. That summer, I had to study and re-take the test. I had just committed to Alabama, so if I didn't pass, then I knew I wouldn't be going anywhere and wouldn't be able to do anything."
With steady encouragement from Gwen and reassurance that he could overcome this obstacle, Le'Ron passed the test that summer and earned his diploma. At that very moment, realizing just how fortunate he was to have the opportunity to enhance his life by going to college – in his hometown with his mother standing by – Le'Ron developed a brand new outlook.
"When I had that setback in high school, I told myself, 'This isn't all about me,'" he remembers. "I knew then that it was about my mom and my family."
During his freshman year with the Crimson Tide, Le'Ron was given a chance to start at fullback when an upperclassman suffered an injury early in the season. Fully prepared and equally confident, he played well early in the game, but then sustained a nasty turf toe injury in the fourth quarter. After missing four games to rehab the ailment, he dropped to third on the depth chart, and he also fell into a deep rut.
"My head wasn't on straight at that point, and I started missing classes and wasn't listening to coaches because I was frustrated," he recalls. "When I was feeling really low, my mom sat me down, and we talked. She told me that adversity was always going to come up in life. But she also kept reminding me that I had to stay strong and rise above it."
And rise above he did. With an attitude adjustment spurred by Gwen, Le'Ron once again began to embrace the work ethic she had shown him growing up. More determined than ever to succeed – individually and for his family – the budding standout went on to start 29 games in his career at Alabama, even earning team captain honors his senior season.
"My mom always told me that when you encounter adversity, the best thing to do is run through it and jump over it. If you do both, then you've got it completely out of the way."
NFL Comes Calling
Selected by Baltimore in the fourth round of the 2007 Draft, Le'Ron came to the Ravens with two specific goals in mind. First, he wanted to prove he was capable of playing at the NFL level. He figured if he did that, then he'd be well on his way to accomplishing the second objective he set out to conquer:
"I've always dreamed about the day when I can tell my mom she doesn't have to work anymore," he wholeheartedly shares about Gwen, who today continues to work as a district hotel manager in Tuscaloosa. "Because of that, I approach work every day the same way that my mom did while I was growing up."
In his rookie year with the Ravens, Le'Ron started 11 games and established himself as a dominant blocker. Last season, in what proved to be a highlight-reel campaign, he took on a different role and led the team with 902 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Earning a Pro Bowl invitation, he quickly emerged as one of the NFL's top fullbacks.
Even as success came early for Le'Ron in his first two seasons, he admits now that the most difficult aspect of transitioning to the NFL had nothing to do with playing on the field.
"The toughest part was being away from my mom for the first time in my life," he remembers. "When I got here for mini-camp my rookie year, I was really homesick. It was an adjustment I had a hard time handling."
But in typical fashion, Gwen helped her son settle in and adjust to his new surroundings. She reminded him that this was just another piece of adversity he was capable of beating, and that it was time for him to establish himself in Baltimore.
"Early on, every opportunity I had to go back home, I took," he recalls. "There were times when I felt I didn't want to go back to Baltimore. But she helped me get through that, and now when I come back here, I feel like I'm coming back to my domain."
Le'Ron makes it a priority to speak with his mom on the phone every day. Rarely do the two miss an opportunity to chat about what's happening in their lives.
"But if I go a day without calling her, she'll call me and leave a message saying, 'Don't you forget about me down here,'" he chuckles. "Seriously though, she's very involved in my life and my game."
In his third season with the Ravens, Le'Ron has somewhat altered his individual football goals. Having proved that he belongs in the NFL, now he strives to be the best at what he does.
"I'm determined to be a complete back in this league," he proclaims. "When people ask, 'Who is the best blocker in the league?' I want them to say 'Le'Ron McClain.' When they ask, 'Who's the best short-yardage back in the league?' I want them to say 'Le'Ron McClain.'"
As for his other aspiration, the one he hopes to turn into a reality for Gwen, Le'Ron is still pressing forward.
"Every day, I'm just working to get to that point when I can repay her for all she's done. My mom has given me everything, and I'm very thankful for that. She means everything to me, and I won't stop until she gets what she deserves."
A human sledgehammer and mama's boy, determined as can be. This is Le'Ron McClain.
For opponents, it's a dangerous combination. For his mother, it's exactly what she raised him to be.