The Ravens head to Pittsburgh for a game with major playoff implications. But who's got the edge in…
It's A Long Way To The NFL
Le'Ron McClain said that was the most difficult part of the transition to the NFL. His mother's absence from the stands was especially tough for the bruising fullback.
On-the-field challenges he encountered as a rookie included adapting to the speed of the game, the physicality of the other players, and the increased mental demands of learning the offensive and defensive schemes.
"You have to understand the game more because you can't tip off stuff that you're doing," he said. "You have to understand what the other team is doing because they know everything about you.
"It's not like college where you can go out there and just play against a guy. In college, they are not looking for keys but in the league they look for everything - anything that can give them an advantage on Sundays."
He gave as an example that a hint to the opponent might be a slight variation in the width of a stance on running plays.
The learning process was not limited to the playing field. McClain's advice to college athletes rings with clarity stating, "Stay humble," he said. "A lot of money will be thrown your way. Don't let the money or the social life of the NFL change you. Stay humble and really hungry. Do your job everyday because there is a guy right behind you trying to work hard. You've got to put your pedal to the medal everyday when you go to work. My main thing is to stay humble and hungry."
McClain's position coach at Alabama, Sparky Woods, was an influential figure in his career. McClain said, "We started out rocky my freshman year but he just took me under his wing the next spring before my sophomore year and told me everyday when I went to practice, ‘You can make a lot of money in the NFL. Go out and practice like a pro.' He used to say that to me everyday without fail so that is what I did. When I got to the NFL that is the way I practiced just like I did in college. It really wasn't much different than when I was in college because I was always going full speed trying to get better everyday."
Woods planted the seeds of high expectations in his mind. "Everybody always used to say as a fullback you weren't really going to get drafted until late like the seventh round, but he would always say I could be he first fullback taken in the draft," said McClain.
Woods was correct. McClain was a fourth round selection and first pure fullback chosen in the 2007 NFL draft.
His running skills and soft hands differentiated him from other eligible candidates. The Ravens recognize his all-around ability and ask him to block, run and receive. Everyday he butts heads blocking ‘Double J' (Jarret Johnson) as they prepare each other for the season. McClain cites the fellow Alabama alum as a model player, always competing at full-speed.
Mornings and afternoons in the off-season are spent on campus with Alabama's Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran preparing for the grind of a 16-game regular season. Workouts at the Tuscaloosa facility serve the dual purpose of motivating not only himself but the present day Crimson Tide football players. "A win-win situation," said the third year NFL player.
McClain is noted for being a powerful blocker, runner and displaying uncanny receiving skills for a fullback. McClain's rookie paltry production of 18 yards gained on 8 attempts did not foreshadow the ensuing Pro Bowl status he would achieve last year in only his second season. Rushing for a team leading 902 yards on 232 carries, he established himself as a significant contributor to the Ravens offense and a 2008 first team All-Pro selection.
He is a self-professed avid video game connoisseur preferring the NCAA 2010 and to a lesser degree Madden's NFL. Those interests pale in comparison to the Atlanta excursions visiting his soon to be in November two-year old daughter Alex. "She's in her whining stage and spoiled," he said beaming about his daughter. His mother intends to travel to every home game this year. "It's great just to see her smile when she gets off that plane when I come pick her up. She just has a wonderful time," he said.
Baltimore Ravens Running Backs Coach Wilbert Montgomery was the only individual who worked out McClain at running back during his pro day in Tuscaloosa. He sings Montgomery's praise for instilling confidence in him to be a player in the NFL. He has words of wisdom for future draftees about the horde of interested owners, general managers, personnel directors and coaches present at the Indianapolis combine. "Don't be nervous, just perform like anther practice. Don't think too much. Just go out there and do what you've been doing all your life, playing ball," said the 6-0, 258-pound McClain reflecting on the simplistic successful pre-draft strategy he employed.
Although he is thriving in the NFL, he yearns to be back in Tuscaloosa cheering for his beloved Crimson and White. He pledges to be in attendance for the Tennessee-Alabama game to be played during the Ravens off-week. "I'll probably be at the stadium before the teams get off the buses," he said. "I can't wait until that game. Roll Tide."