Finally eligible!

Some things just don't come easily. But in the end, Le'Ron McClain got what he'd been waiting for. After receiving word Friday afternoon that he had been passed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, the stellar fullback was dressed in Alabama gear and participating in practice. <br><br>"It feels great to be out here," McClain said to reporters afterwards. "It's been a long time waiting."

"I'd like to give thanks to God for giving me the ability to play football," McClain continued. "I'd also like to thank The University for giving me the chance."

A naturally powerful athlete, Le'Ron McClain will lend immediate depth to the previously thin fullback position.

As talented as McClain is, it's certainly no surprise that The University hung in there with him. But for long months many were frankly predicting he wouldn't make it.

McClain's ACT score and high school transcript were fine, but last July he re-took the science portion of the Alabama high school exit exam yet again. He commented, "I had one more chance, and I took advantage of that chance. All summer I tutored, and I passed the exit exam. (Earlier) I had one of my English teachers at Tuscaloosa County High to help me on the ACT test. I raised my score on that.

"I prayed to God, and now I'm here."

It was his last chance at gaining eligibility to play major-college football this season, and the extra study time paid off. "I felt confident before I even sat down in the chair," McClain said. "I just took my time. It took me 45 minutes to take (the test), and I felt good as soon as I left the building. I knew I passed it."

He may have felt confident immediately after the test, but as days dragged by waiting for his test score to arrive, nagging doubts crept in. "I was worried a little bit," he acknowledged. "I never wanted to think negatively that I wasn't going to make it. Everyone told me to think positively, and I tried to. When I didn't pass in March, I got down on myself, but a lot of people stayed on me, telling me to keep my head up."

Without the exit exam, McClain couldn't receive his high school diploma, which prevented him from applying for admission to Alabama. That meant that while the rest of his teammates reported August 4 and practiced daily during fall camp, McClain was forced to watch from the sideline in street clothes.

Dressed out for the first time in his No. 33 Alabama jersey, McClain was all smiles at Friday's practice.

To his credit, he was there for every minute of the sun-baked workouts, observing the action as closely as he could. "I was able to pick up things," McClain said. "I think it's a pretty easy offense. I picked up a lot from just watching. It was good I was out here those days. I learned more than I thought I would."

McClain wasn't the only one wearing a big smile Friday. The Tide coaches are thrilled to have him eligible, especially since fullback is a worrisome position right now depth-wise. Ranked as one of the top two or three fullback prospects in the nation last recruiting season, McClain hopes to make an immediate impact.

"(The depth situation) is one reason why I think I can play," McClain explained. "But I also (have confidence in) my ability. I think I can catch the football out of the backfield, block, run and everything on the college level. I'm just looking forward to getting on the field and doing it."

Besides attending daily tutoring sessions during June and July, McClain spent his early summer working to get in the best shape of his life. He believes the effort will pay off as he joins practice.

"I've been running all summer and lifting weights to get in shape," he related. "It's just a little different. I've got to get used to wearing a helmet again. I haven't worn a football helmet since the (state playoffs), so I've got to get used to it."

Along with fellow true freshman Demarcus Waldrop (#44), McClain (kneeling) watches special teams practice. NCAA rules require that he spend the first four days in shorts, but by next Tuesday all restrictions will be off.

Despite his late start, McClain's personal goals for the season remain ambitious.

"I want to learn all I can about the offense," he said. "My goal is to start--if not against South Florida, then hopefully by Oklahoma.

"I want to play as a true freshman."

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