There are certain players who leave college early for a professional career, and the followers of that school can't help but wish him well. No one could suggest that Rolando McClain did not give Alabama all that he had, far more than the value of his scholarship. Now he has an opportunity to continue the game of football for a living. A very good living, in all probability.
As Rolando McClain made the announcement Monday that he would be entering the NFL draft this year, there was a thought that he should make a goal of being the number one pick. While that doesn't seem reasonable, consider that when McClain came to Alabama three years ago, he made his goals "being a first-team All-America, winning the Butkus, and winning a national championship. I’ve accomplished those goals, and I think I’m going to leave The University pretty satisfied with what I’ve done here."
No one was surprised. McClain has been listed as a top NFL prospect, listed by Scout.com earlier this season as the number one prospect at middle linebacker. McClain goes down in history as one of the all-time best and favorite Alabama linebackers.
McClain, the 6-4, 260-pound middle linebacker from Decatur, said that he met with Alabama Coach Nick Saban before making his decision. "He got right to the point," McClain said. "He was talking to me as a coach and a father and he said I was ready to go."
McClain gave credit to Saban, Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart, Inside Linebackers Coach James Willis, and former Tide Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Kevin Steele, and to his teammates "for making me a better player. Without these guys I wouldn't be the man that I am."
McClain described his three years at Alabama as "great." He said he had been on the Dean's List the past two years and needed 35 hours to earn his degree. Saban said he had encouraged McClain to continue working on his degree "because you're always just one injury from retirement" in pro football.
Unlike a number of players preparing for the NFL draft, McClain said he would remain in school during the spring semester and work out using The University's facilities. "They got me this far," he said.
McClain said he believes the linebackers behind him will carry on. He mentioned Dont'a Hightower, who will be coming back from knee surgery, and Nico Johnson, who moved into Hightower's spot this year. McClain said he thinks Johnson will remain at the weakside linebacker spot and that Hightower will take McClain's middle linebacker job.
"The positions are about the same, except that at middle linebacker you have to talk," McClain said. "Dont'a is like me, kind of soft-spoken, but he'll step up and do the job."
McClain said he felt he had played "okay" in Alabama's 37-21 win over Texas in the Rose Bowl for the national championship last week. "Texas didn't run much, so I think my primary contribution was in leadership," he said.
Saban said, “Rolando McClain has been as great an ambassador for the University of Alabama probably as anyone ever has in terms of how he’s represented himself, his family, the university, the state of Alabama and our team. That’s not only in terms of being a great football player – probably the best defensive football player in the country, in my opinion, or one of them, and certainly at his position – but he always did things right. He’s done a great job academically. His leadership had as much impact on our team and our team’s success since he’s been here in the last three years – even in his freshman year – as anyone that I’ve ever been associated with. And we appreciate that.
“I’m not letting out any secrets here, but he is a projected first-round pick. Everybody here knows my philosophy on guys coming out early for the draft, that if you’re projected to be that, that’s something that I can support you on. I still want Ro – and he’s kind of promised me that he’s going to do what he can and understands the importance of him getting an education and graduating from school one day. You’re always one injury away from retirement when you’re a player. But he has my support in terms of what he’s doing, and we’re going to help him every way that we can as a family of people at Alabama. Even though we would have loved to see him continue to play with us, we’re also going to be very supportive in him being able to accomplish the individual goals that he can contribute at the next level and accomplish at the next level, because he’s capable of doing it. He can do it, and I’m sure he will do it.”