He acknowledges he probably wasn't ready to play nearly as much as he did in 2004 when he played in all 11 games and started the last three as a true freshman. He made 21 of his 27 tackles that season in his three starts.
"Freshmen can help. Freshmen like Wesley Woodyard and Tony Dixon, they were ready to play when we got here. Freshmen like me, I still needed to learn the game," McClinton said. "I was out there with the wolves. I was out there before I had the experience and went through some hard times and made a lot of mistakes."
He felt more comfortable starting at free safety last year before injuring his knee in the second game and needed surgery that ended his season. "I had never been hurt before. I had never had surgery. It was hard just watching my teammates play," McClinton said.
Now he's back in a limited role at spring practice and enjoying every minute. He says he gained strength and weight during the offseason, partially because his mother and sister moved from Fort Campbell to Lexington. "We are locals now and my mother has been able to cook for me. That's really helped," he said.
She hasn't been able to convince him to shave his goatee that he started growing after he was hurt. "It's my strength now. She doesn't exactly love it, but she says, 'You are still my baby.' But I don't plan to shave," he said.
He does plan to make 2006 a memorable season. "I want this to be our season. For a personal goal, I want this to be my best season ever. I want to be a leader and make plays. Then for the team, I want this to be our year," McClinton said. "We can be good. You have seen our schedule. It is a nice schedule. We can play this schedule. We can get some games under our belt and get experience before we play the real good teams and hopefully knock them down, too. I want this to be our season where we win a lot of games and I want to do my part to make sure that happens. Not playing last year was no fun, but I know I'm going to be a better player now and in the long run, missing most of last year could help the rest of my career be a lot, lot better."