Jameel McClain has overcome his share of obstacles and adversity. He spent part of his youth in Philadelphia living out of a Salvation Army shelter. McClain was bypassed in the NFL Draft and entered the league as a free agent. He seriously injured his neck two years ago.
On Feb. 27, McClain was hit with another challenge when he was released by the Baltimore Ravens, the only professional team he had played for.
"It was a mixture of surprise and disappointment," McClain said. "You learn with more time in this league that it's a business and sometimes they make business decisions that most people don't understand. It just was one of those things that was like, 'Dust yourself off and try again.'"
McClain did exactly that. After weighing his options, the seven-year veteran today signed with the Giants. With the earlier announcement that they had re-signed Jon Beason, the Giants today significantly bolstered their linebacker corps.
"It's an opportunity," McClain said. "I believe in opportunity and I believe that everything happens for a reason. Now I get a chance to re-create myself. I get a chance to re-create my own identity without being placed with any label. No disrespect to anything that I've been through or anybody anywhere else, but when you get into this position you have to choose the best for your family, the best for your career, the best for your longevity. This was one of those circumstances for me where I could come here and create myself and compete and be the player that I want to be or the player that I can be.
"I love this organization. I love the tradition here. The players are amazing. I had the opportunity to talk to a few. Being close to home is very important. I'm a family man, I have a lot of nieces and nephews that I need to be next to. It's a great opportunity for me, in all honesty."
McLain has played in 87 regular-season games with 55 starts and in nine postseason games with three starts. In six seasons with Baltimore, McClain had 338 tackles (214 solo), 4.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He also had 60 special teams tackles.
Despite those impressive numbers, McClain still has the underdog mentality that every successful undrafted player retains throughout his career.
"I've got a chip on my shoulder the size of a golden nugget," McClain said. "I'm all the way there. Every time that I get a little itch, God always slaps me in the back of the head and says, 'Jameel, you've got a long way to go.' I signed a little deal and then after that I got hurt, that was God slapping me on the back on the head. Once I came back from that injury then I get cut, so that's God slapping me on the back of the head again, just saying, 'Your job is to be the underdog.' For the world to see that the underdog can make it possible, that's my destination, that's going to be my journey. I know it and I accept it."
In 2013, McClain started all 10 games in which he played weakside linebacker after he was activated off the reserve/physically unable to perform list on Oct. 19. He finished the season with 50 tackles (27 solo) and a forced fumble.
McClain said he played all of the linebacker positions in Baltimore's 3-4 defense. Now he is moving to the Giants' 4-3. It's safe to say he anticipates no problems making the transition.
"I really think people do make too much of it," he said. "Football is football. Maybe it's not so much for me because I believe I'm so versatile a player. I've played every position. None of that really scares me at all. It all just seems so familiar."
McClain joined the Ravens from Syracuse as a rookie free agent in 2008. He did not miss a game in his first four seasons, when he was a special teams standout and a reserve his first two years. McLain had 33 special teams tackles in 2009. He started all but one game in 2010-11, finishing third and then second on the Ravens with 91 and 81 tackles, respectively.
McClain started the first 13 games of the 2012 season before injuring his neck at Washington on Dec. 9. He was inactive the following week, sitting out for the first time in his career and snapping a streak of 77 consecutive games played.
He was sidelined for the Ravens' four-game postseason run in 2012, including their victory in Super Bowl XLVII, because he was on injured reserve with a spinal cord contusion.
"I missed that, so I really don't have a ring," he said. "I feel I have a chance to win one with his organization. Winning is everything. If you're in this game, you should only be playing to win and to compete. Without that, what are we left with? A bunch of numbers on the board? It really doesn't mean anything. I play this game to win, I play this game for respect and this organization does that at the highest level. I'm happy to be a part of it."