Joe Medley: Anniston’s McClain experiences Super Bowl run in year of development on Ravens’ practice squad
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jan 29, 2013 | 4794 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Anniston offensive lineman Antoine McClain (60) will practice with the Baltimore Ravens this week and be on the sideline with them during Sunday’s Super Bowl showdown with the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
Former Anniston offensive lineman Antoine McClain (60) will practice with the Baltimore Ravens this week and be on the sideline with them during Sunday’s Super Bowl showdown with the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
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How often do we do it? A high-profile football recruit from Alabama leaves the state, and we think or say, what a shame he didn’t end up at Alabama or Auburn.

What a shame for him.

Lament not former Anniston High standout offensive lineman Antoine McClain, because guess where the path from Anniston to Clemson to the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad has led him?

Yes, Big Mac spent part of his Tuesday in the Louisiana Superdome, soaking in Super Bowl XLVII Media Day. He arrived in New Orleans with the team Monday, and there’s a nice picture of Bourbon Street on his Facebook page.

He’ll practice with the Ravens this week and be on the sideline, in sweats, with them during Sunday’s showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

That doesn’t cover McClain’s season-long ride with veteran players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to what’s being billed as Harbowl, Sunday’s battle of head-coaching Harbaugh brothers John and Jim. The experience of Super Bowl Week also doesn’t cover the NFL ride that could come from such a season-long education for a rookie like McClain.

What a shame for Antoine McClain? Hardly. What a shame if things had turned out any differently.

“All the glory and blessings that have came from the most high Has me very appreciative!” he posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning.

The clichéd recruiting tale is well worn. There once was mutual interest between McClain and Alabama, and then there wasn’t. He wound up at Clemson and quite happy, thank you very much.

The one-time No. 78 overall prospect in the country, according to ESPN.com, enjoyed three full seasons as a starter. He was part of a rebuilding effort that got Clemson to the Orange Bowl his senior year.

McClain had hopes of being drafted but wound up signing off the undrafted free-agent market. His suitor was the Ravens, a perennial playoff contender that came one dropped pass away from the Super Bowl a year ago.

He played in preseason, was released on Aug. 31, then re-signed Sept. 1 for the practice squad. That he stuck at all says he has development potential, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh has told him as much.

“Coach Harbaugh tells me I have all the attributes to be a good player,” McClain said by phone. “He says just work on foot quickness, which I always need to work on, like anybody on the offensive line.”

It helps to work daily against one of the league’s best and most physical defenses. The physicality of practice tapers down as the NFL season wears on, but McClain has sparred with Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and even Lewis on some run blocks.

“It’s a grind to go out there to face those guys,” McClain said. “At the same time, I’m facing the best competition that I think anybody can ever get.”

McClain has sat through the meetings and heard the speeches. He heard Lewis’ “last-ride” speech, in which the 17-year veteran and one of the NFL’s most recognizable players informed the team he would retire after this season.

“I won’t say it was a shock,” McClain said. “And really, he’s done played 17 years. He feels like he’s done written his story, and he’s still going to be around the organization.”

Maybe most interesting, in terms of McClain’s resume building, he has spent a season with noted veteran players making a Super Bowl run. He’s seen how the teams that do it get it done, and every team wants players that get it.

Just a rookie, McClain sounds a lot like a player who gets it. How much was he looking forward to the hype, especially Super Bowl Media Day?

“We have to be there,” he said.

As for how he approaches Super Bowl week, he’s gotten the memo.

“It’s fun. You’re about to go and compete for a world championship,” he said. “It’s for real, man. I don’t know how to describe the feeling.

“But at the same time, you’ve got to keep it normal, because the team that keeps it normal and keeps everything the same will be the team that wins.”

For McClain, keeping it normal means preparing the Ravens’ defense for the 49ers’ read-option offense. It’s not complicated on the line.

“The blocking really doesn’t change,” he said. “They just call different plays. It’s just football.”

After Sunday’s game, the question becomes where football takes McClain next. The next step would be to make a 46-man active roster. By NFL rules, a player on a practice squad can negotiate a deal with any other team in the NFL, so long as the player is signed to the team’s 53-man roster.

McClain has something to sell beyond just a year of development against NFL competition. He has developed on one of the best teams and against one of the league’s top defenses. He’s also seen what it takes to make a Super Bowl run.

“I feel like I’ve developed a lot,” he said. “I feel like I’ve developed in my mental skills, my mental toughness and just my attention to details, everything.

“I mean, you look around the league, I think I could have played on a couple of teams, but I just think God has a plan for me to be where I am right now.”

Indeed, things are working out well for Antoine McClain.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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