TUSCALOOSA, Ala.| Leadership, responsibility and being social were all thought of as high school characteristics at one point in time, where football is concerned.
Nowadays, we see more elementary and middle school children getting involved in youth football camps. The dynamic of teamwork and competition is engraved in their minds at a young age and on Saturday, more evidence was provided at American Christian Academy.
Despite being born in Fort Wayne, Ind., Le’Ron McClain refers to Tuscaloosa as home.
The former Tuscaloosa County High School star and Crimson Tide standout held his ninth annual safety and skills camp on a field that’s 3.1 miles away (11 minutes) from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Much like C.J. Mosley’s camp in Mobile, McClain and his supporters had between 250-300 participants wearing shirts with the No. 33 on the back. As he surveyed the field in a black hoodie, McClain smiled after each throw, catch and defensive play that resembled a desire to be great.
The idea started in 2007, but the passion to be great began when McClain was six years old.
“I told my manager at the time that we have to do everything we can to give back to this community during the summer,” McClain said. “It’s a blessing to be a blessing and part of my blessing is just seeing these kids smile, have fun and get better. I told them that it’s all about effort and to make football your plan B and school your plan A.”
The lessons he learned from attending camps grounded McClain into a solid high school player at Tuscaloosa County. The Wildcats made the playoffs in all four of his years (1999-02), while winning the Class 6A Region 5 championship twice in 2001 and 2002. McClain gained much recognition during his senior year, as he earned Super All-State honors from Birmingham News and first-team All-State honors from the Alabama Sports Writers Association (ASWA) in 2002.
He would accept an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama in 2003, where he played under coach Mike Shula. NCAA sanctions forced Alabama to vacate all 10 of its wins from the 2005 season (now 0-2). Regardless of a 19-23 overall record and constantly ending up on the losing side against Auburn and LSU, McClain remains fully respectful of Shula for his efforts.
“From him, I learned how to be a leader,” McClain said on Shula.
“I learned how to block out all the negative stuff people will say about you, because they constantly hounded him for not beating Auburn and LSU. The guy changed my life when he came in with a great offense. Props out to Shula. I love him and my running backs coach Sparky Woods to death.”
Fullbacks are not required to carry the ball much; however, the position has the glorious task of getting running backs up and down the field. Kenneth Darby (2003-06), Tim Castille (2003-06), Ray Hudson (2001-04) and Shaud Williams (2002-03) all had the joy of having McClain block for them as some point in their careers. Darby gained the most from following McClain, as he collected two 1,000-yard seasons (2004, 2005) and finished with 3,324 career rushing yards—which is fourth all-time in school history.
Williams, who came from Texas Tech, trusted McClain as a freshman in 2003, and he guided him to 1,367 rushing yards. The number ranks Williams seventh all-time in history for rushing yards in a single season.
“If I had to give a top five for running backs that I blocked for at Alabama, Ken Darby is number one,” McClain said. “My top three stands at Darby, Tim Castille and Ray Hudson.”
In 48 career games, McClain accounted for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns on 85 plays from scrimmage. He showcased versatility at receiver, grabbing 48 passes for 405 yards and eight touchdowns. His two-yard touchdown reception from John Parker Wilson secured a 26-23 win over Ole Miss in overtime in 2006. McClain’s effort improved the Tide to a 5-2 record, while he finished the season with 175 yards receiving and three touchdowns on 20 catches (8.5 average).
He would then spend seven years in the National Football League, after being taken in the fourth round (137th overall pick) of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. McClain was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2008, 2009) and a first-team All-Pro selection during the 2009 season.
He earned three trips to the playoffs (2008-10) and came close to a 1,000-yard rushing year in 2008; a season that saw him total 902 yards and 10 touchdowns on 232 carries. McClain would leave Baltimore for Kansas City on a one-year deal in 2011, but things didn’t pan out well.
He found himself in San Diego a year later on a three-year deal with the Chargers.
McClain appeared in the playoffs in 2013 for the fourth time in his career. He obtained 1,867 yards from scrimmage with 16 scores on 448 touches, prior to leaving the game after the 2013 season.
He’s managed to stay in shape and said he’s still looking for an opportunity in the NFL, but he’s also looked at coaching options. One player McClain has trained is Alabama’s 2017 running back commitment, Brian Robinson. Robinson, a rising senior at Hillcrest High School, is expected to sign with the Tide in February of 2017, along with fellow running back Najee Harris.
“Brian Robinson has been coming to my camp since he was 6-7 years old,” McClain said.
“He is going to be something special.”
Derrick Henry became the sixth running back taken in the NFL Draft under Nick Saban, while ex-Tide star Trent Richardson was third. Both players were Heisman finalists and Henry took home the trophy last season. With Henry starting his professional career and Richardson wanting to prove that he’s not a bust, McClain offers the same message for both guys.
“Just work,” McClain said.
“When you are on the field, you give 110 percent. To make the games easy, you have to come to work everyday like it’s your last day. Not for long is what NFL stands for. It’s about what are you doing for teams lately and you have to give your all year after year.”
He played in the NFL, but Alabama football still drives McClain. He’s looking forward to watching Saban and company this season and will have much attention on the Tide’s backfield.
“Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris are going to be something serious,” he said.
“Everybody is always worried about the quarterback position, but in this offense when you recruit like Alabama does, all you have to do is plug in and keep it going.”