Jameel McClain Still Carries That Chip

Linebacker Jameel McClain went from homeless to undrafted to now getting paid.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, March 24th, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Categories: 2012 Offseason, Ryan Mink

Jameel McClain grew up on Philadelphia’s streets. He, his mother and two sisters spent a year in a homeless shelter.

McClain survived that, then survived the Ravens’ training camp cuts in the summer of 2008, the only undrafted free agent to do so.

Four years later, McClain signed a three-year, reported $10.5 million contract to stay in Baltimore. He made it.

“It’s a good time for me and my family right now,” McClain said minutes after signing the contract Friday.

But getting that deal won’t change McClain’s underdog persona.

“To be able to go from the bottom – literally in every sense of the word – to now being here, it’s a blessing,” McClain said. “But once again, it’s just a stepping-stone. I’m nowhere near where I want to be. There are a lot of things that I want to do in my career and where I want to go.”

Presser: Jameel McClain: ‘It’s Another Step In My Journey’

So is there still a chip on his shoulder?

“It’s even bigger now. It’s a chip on my shoulder the size of a golden nugget,” he said.

McClain and his story quickly endeared him to the Ravens.

After just two years as mainly a special teamer and occasional blitzing linebacker, McClain was given the starting linebacker position next to Ray Lewis.

He started 15 games in 2010 and logged 71 tackles and a sack. Last year, he started all 16 and notched 84 tackles, one sack and an interception.

But it’s more than McClain’s statistics that led to him being re-signed. It’s that backstory, it’s where he’s come from and the player it’s made him now.

“He is a Raven. He is one of us,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “Look at his character, look at his story, look at what he has done. I just have so much respect for him, so much admiration for him as a person. He is a big part of who we are.”

McClain doesn’t seem to hear the praise. He’s constantly seeing those who don’t think he can do something, constantly aiming to prove he can.

He said that there’s still a whole lot of room to grow, that if measuring where he’s at in his potential in percentages, he “wouldn’t even be close to anything.”

“All I have to do is start all over again and keep proving to people that I belong here, because at the end of the day, that’s what this game is about: proving to everybody else that you are supposed to be here,” McClain said. “You don’t play for all of the other stuff. You play for the respect.”

Last year, McClain drew widespread acclaim for the job he did stepping in for Lewis, who missed four late-season games due to a toe injury.

With Lewis getting up there in age (he’ll turn 37 this May), McClain has been pointed to as the possible next leader of the linebacker corps. He’s more than a decade younger than Lewis.

Still, McClain feels some people don’t believe he could fill that role.

“It was big to be able to showcase what I can do. Still, at the end of the day, there are speculations on everything: ‘You did it a little bit, can you really do it?’” he said.

“It’s always going to be something to keep that chip growing on your shoulder. It’s going to keep growing every day. It was nice, it was a good experience, but I am looking forward to having the chance to be able to run the show.”

McClain was asked what he would do with his newfound money.

He said he would put it in the bank, invest it and take care of his family and future generations. But the fun-loving McClain couldn’t resist cracking a joke.

“I’m going to spend it right,” he said. “I’m not going to make it rain.”

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