Pernell McPhee

Pernell McPhee had a firm plan in mind as he approached his senior year of high school. He wanted to escape the scourge of drugs and violence that have continually plagued his hometown of Pahokee, Fla.

A small town in South Florida, Pahokee is a forbidding environment known for its rich soil and blue-chip athletes and also an eerily grim outlook of murder and incarceration for too many of its young men.

So, McPhee decided to join the football team in hopes of earning a college scholarship. The future Baltimore Ravens fifth-round draft pick was aware he had to buckle down academically in order to have a chance to qualify to play college football.

"I wanted to get my grandma and me out of the ‘hood," McPhee told Scout in a telephone interview. "Pahokee is kind of tough, so you've got to be real blessed to make it out of there. I knew I had to focus in and make her proud. So, I stopped making bad decisions. I had to grow up and be a man."

Football came naturally to McPhee in his lone year of high school football. He recorded 19 sacks and 35 tackles for losses as a senior, forcing a dozen fumbles as the Muckers went undefeated and won the state championship. "I just love to win, and I do whatever I've got to do to get to the ball," McPhee said. "I always want to get to the ball and I always try my best. I'm a tackler. It's my passion. I love the game. It's what I do. And I love watching Ray Lewis light somebody up." Now, McPhee is poised to join Lewis on the Ravens' defense.

"That's my dream," McPhee said. "I can't wait to meet him. He means so much to me as a football player." Before McPhee could get to the NFL, though, he had to get into college first. Because of a low SAT score, McPhee wasn't able to attend Southern Mississippi after signing with them out of high school. So, he enrolled at Itawamba Junior College where he emerged as a junior college All-American. McPhee piled up 33 sacks and 72 tackles for losses in two seasons. And he had his pick of scholarships, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Illinois, Michigan and West Virginia before deciding on Mississippi State. "I could have gone to pretty much any school in the country that I wanted," McPhee said. "All the big schools were after me. I just liked Mississippi State.

In two seasons, McPhee was twice named All-Southeastern Conference as he posted 91 tackles, seven sacks, 22 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. "What we like about him is he's relentless, plays very hard," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We had a chance to see him down at the Senior Bowl, and there were stretches when he had his way with some of the better tackles in the draft. We just like his motor, his mentally. He can rush the passer. We think this is a kid who has a lot of upside." McPhee led the Bulldogs with five sacks and 12 tackles for losses as a junior.

He had 9 ½ tackles for losses as a senior with a pair of sacks, four pass breakups and 12 quarterback hurries, totaling 88 tackles in two seasons.

After the Ravens picked McPhee with the last selection of the fifth round, ESP draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wasn't too enamored of the Florida native.

"He's solid in games, average in others," said Kiper, a Jarrettsville resident who regularly attends Ravens games. "He's a kid I think can be a run-stopping defensive end and is just average in the pass rush."

The Ravens would beg to differ. They see potential in McPhee and plan to use him as a traditional defensive end with his hand in the dirt in their 3-4 scheme. "Anytime you can find someone that has an ability to rush the passer, he brings value to us," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He's a 275-pounder, and we think he can get a little bigger maybe get into that 285, 290 range. Initially, we're going to start him off in what we call the five technique. But the way we run our defense at any point anybody can be dropping. "At first, we want to see if he can line up. Can he play against a tackle? Can he stack? Can he shed and also can he come off the edge as a pass rusher? He did stand up at Mississippi State in some of their packages."

Frustrated by the lockout that has prevented him from joining his teammates, McPhee said he's working hard on his own to stay in shape. He was overjoyed to get the call from Newsome, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks during the draft.

McPhee was a bit surprised to wind up with the Ravens since he didn't think they displayed much interest in him before the draft. McPhee visited the Washington Redskins and had a private workout for the New England Patriots. "I had no clue they liked me," McPhee said. "I never did talk to the Ravens before the draft." McPhee was projected to go as high as the third round.

Like most rookies who feel like they've been underrated, McPhee is eager to prove himself. "I'm not trying to be cocky, but I've got this grudge I can't let go of," McPhee said. "I dominated guys who went before me in the draft. I'm going to work my butt off to prove I'm better than those guys.

"I was the last pick of the fifth round, so that definitely put a chip on my shoulder. A kicker went before me. That made me mad. I was watching the draft and I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?'"

Raised by his grandmother, Lela Osborne, McPhee is intent on doing whatever he can for her to repay how she worked tirelessly to put food on the table and a roof over his head. McPhee is from a large family, but he's always been closest to his grandmother. "I might sound selfish, but I'm not worried about my family except for her," McPhee said. "I just want to make her life easier. She's real special."

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