The early junior college graduate arrived at Auburn over the weekend and is getting settled into what is expected to be his new home for the next three football seasons. Because he redshirted in the fall of 2001, the 6-3, 255-pounder arrived at Auburn with three years of eligibility.
An extra defensive end--or two, three or four more--is exactly what the Tigers need for 2003 with the team being dangerously short on depth at that position. Auburn will go into its New Year's Day Capital One Bowl game against Penn State with just three defensive ends in junior Reggie Torbor and sophomores Bret Eddins and Jay Ratliff, the converted tight end. As he has earlier this season, junior defensive tackle Dexter Murphy is expected to move outside to add depth at the position.
Tony McClain (97) is shown at his first Auburn practice with Jay Ratliff (83).
McClain, who is originally from Texas, says he decided to play his Division I college football at Auburn for a variety of reasons. The obvious need for defensive ends helped lead him to AU, but there were other factors. "I like the people around Auburn," he says. "I like the team. They have got good chemistry. They have got a good group of guys. I like their pace the way they play. They run fast to the ball.
"I had a lot of offers--Tennessee, Florida and just about anywhere in the SEC or the Big 12," McClain says. "I chose Auburn because I like the team a lot."
At B.F. Terry High School, McClain was a highly regarded player, a two-time All-State pick in talent-rich Texas. However, he wasn't a defensive end. He was a 6-3, 219-pound defensive back on the big school All-State team his senior season.
"In high school I was a free safety, a punt return and a kicker," he says. "I was the No. 1 free safety in the state and averaged 38.6 yards per kickoff return. In punt returns I was pretty good. I was second in the state. I led the state in interceptions for two years. I had a career 25 interceptions from my sophomore to senior year."
McClain originally signed with the University of Indiana as a high school senior, but did not qualify academically. He considered both Hinds, Miss., Community College and Coffeyville before deciding to head to Kansas. He had plans of transferring on to Indiana after junior college, however, before that could happen the Hoosiers changed coaching staffs and he re-evaluated the situation. After literally hearing from colleges all across the country, he decided to join his Coffeyville teammate, tailback Brandon Jacobs, at Auburn.
McClain says he was originally scheduled to play linebacker at Coffeyville, but his team was short on defensive ends. The coaching staff asked if he would gain some weight and change positions and he did.
Despite the extra size, McClain says he still runs well and that speed is his major weapon. "The last time I ran the 40 I ran a 4.58," he says.
Like Jacobs, McClain says the academic experience at Coffeyville was a good one. "It helped me out a lot," he says. He credits his counselors at the school for doing a wonderful job of getting him on the right track academically and also gives some credit to Auburn assistant coach Terry Price, who regularly called McClain to remind him how important it was to take care of his academic business.
McClain says he is eager to learn the Auburn defensive system from his position coach, Price, who started recruiting McClain last spring. "He told me that I would have a real good chance to play," the newcomer says. Once he learns what he is supposed to do, McClain says he will "starting pulling out the tricks" and showing his new team what he can do. "Now that I am part of the team, I really want to help these guys win an SEC Championship."
Tiger Ticket Extra: McClain predicts that Auburn fans will enjoy watching tailback Brandon Jacobs run. McClain had to scrimmage against the big back for the past year and a half at Coffeyville and is impressed with the national player of the year in the junior college ranks. "A lot of people kind of say he is too big to play running back, but just let him get a full head of steam and you get in his way," McClain says with a smile. "Just think about it. He is about the same size as Eddie George. Brandon is a good back. Just give him a chance and you will see." McClain's favorite Jacobs run came against Fort Scott, Kan., Community College. The defensive end said the touchdown play started with Jacobs running over both inside linebackers as they tried to tackle the 6-4 1/2, 253-pounder. "He then ran over the strong safety, then the free safety and carried one guy into the end zone on his back."