Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Rolando McClain has set a goal of making freshman All-SEC and freshman All-American in his first season at Alabama.
Ready for Tuscaloosa
Decatur High grad McClain likes Saban and the thought of playing early as he heads to Alabama
By Josh Cooper
Former Decatur High linebacker and future Alabama football freshman Rolando McClain is the eager type these days.
On June 3, heíll take the two-hour drive south to Tuscaloosa to start his preparations for the upcoming football season. And while he has some lofty goals — freshman All-SEC and freshman All-American — he is simply ready to move to the next phase in his life.
McClain has put on 15 pounds since his high school career ended, and at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he believes he can compete for a starting position at linebacker.
But that doesnít sound like too much of a problem, since he and new Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke for 25 minutes about football in their first conversation, the day Saban was hired Jan. 4. Either way, McClain is ready to roll down to school.
He sat down recently with Daily sports reporter Josh Cooper to discuss his upcoming move and his hopes and aspirations for the upcoming season.
Question: Could you tell me about your off-season program and what you have been doing to stay in shape?
Answer: It is going well. Iím doing a lot of running. Weight program is fine. Weíre used to working out a lot at Decatur High. It feels like the tempo of what youíre doing is different — itís something you have to get used to.
Q: Are you looking forward to getting to Tuscaloosa? What is the longest you have been away from home?
A: Iím very excited. Iím ready to get away from Decatur and get out on my own. I went to a camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., (for an all-star game) sometime this past year for a week. I feel like Iím very responsible, being away. Iíll probably get homesick, but not to the point where I want to leave college. I know that being at school by myself will better me in the long run.
Q: Have you thought of what classes you want to take?
A: I know I have to take a foreign language this summer, but Iím thinking of majoring in engineering so if football doesnít work out, Iíll have something to fall back on.
Q: What are your expectations for your first season at Alabama?
A: Coming in as a freshman, I know I have the size; I know I have the ability. The coaches have a lot of faith in me. They think I can come in and play immediately. I want to come in as a freshman and take on the role of a leader. I was a leader at Decatur High so I want to do the same thing (at Alabama).
They told me I may have a chance to call in the defense. Thatís a big responsibility. So just get there, do what I can do and do what I know I can do. I want my goals to be freshman All-SEC and freshman All-American. I didnít go to Tuscaloosa for nothing.
Q: Are you set at linebacker? With your size, you seem to fit the mold of where linebackers Ezekial Knight and Keith Saunders are playing in the defense in the 3-4 scheme.
A: Coach Saban knows I can play middle linebacker. Theyíre running a 3-4 so there are more linebackers. I think Iím solid at linebacker. I think (Keith and Zeke) were more outside linebackers. At middle linebacker, they have guys, but with what I can do, it doesnít matter who is there. It is probably a given that Prince Hall is going to start so the other spots are open. Iím just ready and willing to go in and battle and do what I can do.
Q: What are your thoughts on Nick Saban?
A: Coach Saban is a nice guy. A lot of people say he has a mean streak, but thatís fine. Thatís how I grew up. Thatís how we were with (Decatur coach Jere Adcock).
It was his way, and you respected everything he said. You did everything he said. The strictness was not a problem with him. I think (Saban) is the best coach for me that can get me better to an NFL level. He has coached some of the best guys and he knows the game of football.
Q: When coach Mike Shula was fired, did you ever waver in your commitment to Alabama?
A: Me and (defensive backs) coach (Chris) Ball and (defensive coordinator Joe) Kines, we got kind of tight. When I found out they were fired, it was a shock. But at the same time, I committed to the school and knew Alabama was going to bring in a great coach — someone who was worthy of the job. I never wavered in my commitment or wanted to de-commit. I knew I was going to go to Alabama. When coach Saban came in, it was like a relief because you have the best coach possible.
Q: What was your first contact with Coach Saban like?
A: I think it was early that morning he was hired. I didnít know the exact day but it was about four hours after he was on TV, and (new assistant) Coach (Ron) Middleton called me and he was like, ďHow are you doing? You are the No. 1 guy, and we wanted to talk to you first.Ē I talked with Coach Middleton for 10 minutes, and then he said, ďThe big man wants to talk to you.Ē I talked with Coach Saban for about 20, 25 minutes about football. So after I knew we could talk for 25 minutes about football, I knew he was a special coach.
Q: Do you talk to former Alabama linebacker and Austin High alum Juwan Simpson for advice?
A: I talk to Juwan a lot. When I went down for football games, I would talk with my former teammates at Decatur, (Alabama defensive backs) Sam Burnthall and Trent Dean, and then I would talk with Juwan. It doesnít matter where he went. He went to Alabama and now I am going there. So all the Decatur-Austin stuff is out the door.
Q: Did Juwan give any solid advice?
A: He didnít know what it is like playing with Coach Saban, but he said that playing college, the only difference is the size and speed, and I have the speed and I have the size. He said if you go in and make the impression on coaches, then you will be fine.
Q: College is a big balancing act with school, sports and social life. Do you feel like you are ready for it?
A: Iím always on the move. So college wonít be different at all. Iím looking forward to moving out of the house. Iím ready to get away and be an adult for a while. Iíll still be under the rules of a parent or a guardian with football coaches, but Iím just ready to get out of the house and ready to do my own thing.
I feel Iíll do well because Iíll be able to keep myself balanced and do work. I donít have a girlfriend, so that isnít a problem either.
Iím going to be busy with football and learning the defense. Just the fact you get to go out in the world and meet new people and play football.
Q: What will it be like having fellow Decatur High alum and freshman basketball player Rico Pickett down there?
A: It will be great, knowing that Sam (Burnthall) will be down there. But going down there with someone you played all four years basketball with, thatís even better. Because you know him and get to be with him all the time.
Q: Were you worried during basketball season that you would get hurt?
A: No. If I donít think about getting hurt, I wonít get hurt. I read my Bible every morning. The days I read my Bible every morning, I feel like God is watching over me and I wonít get hurt. Iím not the most religious guy; Iíve been baptized and I believe in God.
I donít go to church every Sunday, but I read my Bible every day.
The Rolando McClain file
Senior year:Played linebacker and had 106 tackles for Decatur High in 10 games, including 13 for lost yardage. He also recorded four sacks.
Honors:Made all-state as a junior at tight end and as a senior at linebacker. Was one of two Alabama high school players to make Parade All-American in 2006.
College choice:Committed to Alabama in June 2006 and didnít waver after head coach Mike Shula was fired five months later.
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