No one in Decatur was shocked. Had Rolando McClain not amounted to much of a player at Alabama, that would have blown them away. But the fact that he stepped in as a starting inside linebacker as a freshman, held the position for three years, won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and helped return the state's football program to the heights of college football, well, that sounded about right.
"We weren't surprised at all," Decatur High School football coach Jere Adcock told Newsday this past week. "We knew his intensity level, we knew his intelligence level, we knew his work ethic, his savvy for the game."
By the end of this week, McClain will be a member of an NFL team. He'll likely be asked to do the same thing for whichever franchise drafts him in the first round Thursday night that he did for the Crimson Tide: Step in as a leader, make an immediate impact and restore prominence.
At least that's some of what the Giants will need if they are able to land him.
McClain is regarded as the top middle linebacker in the draft, and the Giants, who have the 15th pick in the first round, are in need of a middle linebacker. They had six years with Antonio Pierce at the hub of their defense, but someone else will have to play the position for Big Blue in 2010.
There are a few players already on the roster who will compete for the job, including Jonathan Goff (drafted two years ago as the "middle linebacker of the future"), Chase Blackburn and even Gerris Wilkinson and Bryan Kehl. But many league sources believe McClain would fit in nicely in the middle of the defense being installed by new coordinator Perry Fewell.
A perfect fit? Maybe. Especially given that that's what McClain strives for in just about everything he does. Adcock called him "a perfectionist."
"That's his makeup," Adcock said. "He understands the game. It doesn't matter what he's doing, if he's playing basketball or football, if he's a linebacker or a tight end. It doesn't matter. He understands the game and he does a great job of learning what everyone around him is supposed to be doing. He understands how everybody fits into the puzzle."
Part of that is because until his senior year in high school, McClain was a small player who had to use his guile and brains to make plays. By the time he sprouted into a 6-3, 240-pound senior with a scholarship offer from 'Bama, his physical tools were just catching up to his mental skills.
"I think he has the innate ability to see the game, but at the same time there are a lot of kids who do that but they don't put the effort into learning like he did,'' Adcock said. "I think that's where that perfectionist attitude and personality he has come in. He'll say, 'OK, I understand this, but I want to make sure I understand everything and I'm going to learn it backwards and forwards and I'm going to make sure that if the guy next to me doesn't know something, then I'll alert him to it.' ''
McClain isn't a slam dunk for the Giants. First of all, he has to be available to them with the 15th pick, or the Giants have to find a trading partner to move up and secure him. But there are other hurdles.
He's played in a 3-4 system the last three years at Alabama under Nick Saban (with whom Tom Coughlin has spoken about McClain). McClain shrugged off the idea that he's pigeon-holed in one system during an interview on Sirius NFL Radio last month, saying: "I know I can excel in either defense." And Giants general manager Jerry Reese has a history of ignoring 3-4, 4-3 designations, saying it's up to the staff to coach the players properly.
Actually, before he was a 3-4 inside linebacker, he was a 4-3 middle linebacker at Decatur.
"I really don't think it's going to be any problem for him in either direction," said Adcock, the coach who moved him to middle linebacker in high school to thwart opposing offenses that simply tried to run away from McClain when he was on the outside.
And then there's the Crohn's disease, which McClain openly talked about at his Pro Day earlier this spring (although reports this week suggested he does not have the condition). That was one of the main reasons the Giants brought him in for face-to-face meetings in New Jersey last week, to learn more about his medical condition.
Were they satisfied? It's hard to say in the cloak-and-dagger world of predraft information. But if they wind up drafting McClain, there's a good portion of the population in Decatur who will become instant Giants fans. And they know the Giants will be satisfied with their new linebacker.
"Everything he does," Adcock said, "he wants to be really great at it."