2007 KU Football Press Conference Oct. 30
David Lawrence, former offensive lineman and current color commentator for Kansas University football games, watched the play on film just to make sure his mind wasn't playing games with him.
Sure enough, it looked the same the second time. There was senior defensive tackle James McClinton behind Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane, who was two yards behind the line of scrimmage, on the pivotal play of Saturday night's 19-11 KU victory. It left Lawrence mining his memory three days later, wondering if he ever had seen anything quite like that, and wondering if it's time to start talking about McClinton as an All-American candidate, instead of just an All-Big 12 player.
McClinton looked back on the play that stopped the Aggies on fourth down.
"The guard, he pulled, so it gave me an opening," McClinton said. "The center was supposed to come down on me, but my boy Caleb Blakesley was on the center. He was smashing him, so there was like a free opening, so I went in the backfield, and man, that's a big boy. I tired to tackle him, but he got through me, so I held onto his jersey, and here come the cavalry, my teammates!"
That's McClinton. Lively, upbeat, into it. Always the participant, seldom the spectator. He doesn't just belong to Ninth Street Baptist Church, he's a junior deacon. He's not just a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he's the vice president of the KU chapter. He's not just a starter on the football team, he's a captain.
"He's a pleasure to coach," defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "Every day he shows up and has a smile on his face, and his work ethic is unbelievable."
Teammates and coaches forever praise McClinton's "get-off," a football term that describes how quickly a player gets off the line of scrimmage.
"He really attacks the football," Young said. "If you don't double-team him, there's a good chance he's going to make the play."
Middle linebacker Joe Mortensen talked about how much easier his job is because of what McClinton does in front of him.
"He's in the backfield almost every play," Mortensen said. "If you watch J-Mac play, he's almost offside every play. He gets close to the ball, so close, his get-offs, I think he's the best D-tackle I ever played with, the best D-tackle in the nation. One thing you love as a linebacker is you'll see him going in there, and he'll be grabbing linemen so I can run through the hole and make plays. He's just a team player, a great leader, an awesome player. I definitely think he's going to be a guy who plays on Sundays. His work ethic is ridiculous."
Defensive end John Larson said of McClinton: "It's nice having Superman next to you. It makes things a lot easier for you. He'll squeeze gaps for you. He'll get penetration, knock the running back off his course, makes it easier for you to make plays when they're worried about him, and he's doing just a great job. He's a great player.
"And it's great during practice, he's always there picking us up. It's been exciting times. Everybody's been working hard in practices. When James is hard going every rep it makes it easier for you to go hard every rep. He's non-stop on the go when he's on the field and just absolutely tenacious. It's something everybody admires, and he's someone everybody really looks up to."
Blakesley also said McClinton elevates the play of everyone on the field.
"His tempo at practice, his overall spirit toward the game," Blakesley said. "He's always getting after it, no matter if it's in a game or if it's in individual drills or anything. He's always going 100 miles per hour. It's pretty insane, actually."
McClinton, whose height generously is listed at 6-foot-1, his weight at 285 pounds, represents another example of KU coach Mark Mangino looking beyond the Big 12 prototype to recruit a player based on what positives he saw, rather than eliminating him over a negative (height).
"He's not a big, tall guy, but he's strong," Mangino said. "That's the deceiving thing about him. The opponent will say after the game, 'We knew he was quick. We didn't realize how strong he was.' ... Because he's not very tall I think some people overlooked him, which was a mistake because if you watched his high school tape, you could see this guy has a motor."
McClinton answers questions about his height through the same spiritual prism he answers all questions put in front of him.
"I'm the smallest defensive tackle in the Big 12, probably," McClinton said. "I use what I've got. I trust in the Lord. His strength is in me. He also blessed me with quickness and a good get-off. Look at it as David and Goliath. Some are like David, some 6-5, 6-6 linemen are like Goliath. What David did is he used what he had."
What McClinton has is an innate ability to get off the line of scrimmage exceptionally well and a work ethic that drives him to try to do it better every play, every day.