McClain Embraces New Home


Syracuse University hadn't been shut out of the NFL Draft since 1975, but when all four eligible Orangemen went undrafted in 2008, there was speculation that they were all simply "for the birds."

And in the case of Jameel McClain, they could not have been more correct.

Born in Philadelphia, McClain grew up a bird fan - an Eagles fan to be exact. But when it came time for draft day, the former defensive end got the opportunity to spread his wings as a Raven.

And while it may not have been the team he grew up loving, now he recognizes that playing for the home team isn't always the best option.

"It's a blessing to play here," McClain said. "I could never have imagined ending up so close to home. This is perfect because I'm far enough away where I can come back and not be bothered. Nothing against the Eagles, but if I was playing for them, I would be a little too close to home."

Coming out of Syracuse, McClain was projected to go somewhere in rounds 5-7.

When he went undrafted through seven rounds of the NFL Draft, the Ravens organization was quick to realize they may have found a diamond in the rough.

"He was a kid we were looking at from the beginning," said Mike Pettine, Baltimore's outside linebackers coach. "It was a situation where he was one of the key guys left on the board at the end of the draft, and we said we'd love to get him in here as a free agent. Ozzie [Newsome] gave us the green light on that."

McClain brings many positive assets to the Ravens organization, one of which is the ability to make a big hit. Maybe that's because he is a former Golden Gloves boxer. Boasting a 6-1 all-time record as an amateur, McClain will look to use his physical strengths to his advantage.

"I'm excited," said McClain. "I have a lot of room for improvement and things to work on, but more importantly, I'm ready to strap on the pads and hit somebody."

Both coaches and McClain are excited to see what he can do in full pads, but it's not exactly known yet where he'll be on the field.

If he can first prove himself on special teams, McClain could become a versatile asset to the front seven, with experience at both the linebacker as well as the defensive end position.

Sizing up McClain is a difficult task. At 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, McClain does not appear to fit the typical mold of a defensive end. But at Syracuse, McClain predominantly played with a hand in the dirt, and played it well. What he lacked in both height and weight, he made up for with hard work. He led the Big East in sacks his junior year and became the Orange's co-Most Valuable Player, recording 77 tackles in his final season.

"He's not the biggest guy, he's not the fastest guy and he's not the strongest guy, but what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for in his ability to make big plays and play hard," said Pettine. "He finds a way to get it done, despite some limitations. I wouldn't bet against him in the NFL."

McClain's family and friends won't bet against him either. The rookie never really knew his father, who spent the majority of McClain's childhood in prison. As a result, McClain and his surrounding family only grew closer in his absence. His brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles became his biggest fans as well as his biggest crutch for support.

"They have taught me the importance of life and the importance of respect," McClain said. "They have helped me grow into the man that I am now, not only on the field but off the field as well. That's my cast right there, and they have been my inspiration. Every bit of it."

Come first Sunday, McClain likely won't have to look too far to find a familiar face.

"My uncle is one of my biggest supporters," said McClain. "For him, it was a four-hour drive to Syracuse, and I don't think he missed a single game. Baltimore is twice as close, so I expect to see him at every game."

For now, McClain will likely spend his days before camp learning the playbook, as both a linebacker and a defensive end.

It won't be the first time he's been called upon to double up on his studies. McClain graduated from Syracuse with a double major in communications and rhetorical studies and sociology. He also made the Athletic Director's Honor Roll on three occasions and still found time to place seventh all-time on SU's record list for tackles by a down lineman (177).

In his transition from college to the NFL, McClain leaves behind the campus but not his studies.

"While I'm playing, I want to continue to work on my masters," McClain said. "Hopefully, I can get some time in to finally get my Masters in communications or an MBA. Anything I can do to further my career."

McClain is a man of many talents, and the Ravens coaches are looking forward to squeezing every bit of that potential out of the Orange-man during training camp.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content