SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. -- For St. Mark’s receiver Aaron McLean, verbally committing to UConn in June wasn’t just about the opportunity to play Division 1 FBS football. But rather the opportunity to repay the woman that made immense sacrifices for him -- his mother, Tonya.
Earning a full scholarship, McLean nor his mother will have to spend a dime, a feeling that McLean says means more to him than anything else.
“It was a great feeling to make my decision to go to UConn,” said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound McLean. “But knowing that my mom, who’s worked so hard [for me] won’t have to pay for my college education, it means everything.”
At a young age, McLean’s parents separated. And although he has stayed in contact with his father, who he explained “has had a better relationship with since he entered high school,” he has lived with his mother. His mother has paid for most of tuition for St. Mark’s, requiring her to work a plethora of jobs in order to provide the best life she could for her son.
“At times she’s had about two to three jobs,” explained McLean. “She was always busy and has had jobs ranging from coaching volleyball at Babson to working at Hess.”
The sacrifices that Tonya made for her son, gave him the opportunity to attend St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass., a member of the Independent League School (ISL) conference. Surprisingly, McLean took a liking to St. Mark’s not for their football program, but rather their basketball team.
“Originally I came to St. Mark’s because I wanted to play basketball,” said McLean. “They’ve been regarded as one of the best basketball teams in the country and the idea of playing for them was something I wanted to do.”
In addition to basketball, McLean acknowledged when making a decision to go to a school like St. Mark’s, there’s more factors that come into play than just athletics.
“Going to a school only 15 minutes away from home would allow my parents to watch me play all the time” explained McLean, who’s a native of Hudson. “It was also the best academic school I was looking at, which was important.”
After playing basketball for both St. Mark’s and an AAU team for a couple years, McLean decided to focus on football.
“I played AAU and after sophomore year and it made me not really like basketball as much,” McLean explained. “With all the politics involved with it, I moved on and focused on football because that was always fun for me. Football never seemed like a job, because it’s what made me happy.”
With his attention on football, McLean began to emerge as one of Mass. top recruits; currently, he is ranked the No. 11 recruit in Massachusetts by ESPN. He drew attention from schools such as Boston College, Harvard and Yale and received offers, in addition to UConn, from Holy Cross and Bryant. But with the 2014 season quickly approaching, McLean opted to give his verbal commit early to ensure a scholarship and not worry about the possibility of schools offering other players.
“UConn had been my top school and I didn’t want to wait on it,” explained McLean on the decision to verbally commit early. “Some schools I talked to in the Ivy League, if I waited too long to make my commitment they could offer my scholarship to another player. So I just felt it made the most sense to commit to my number one and take the stress off heading into my senior season.”
At the beginning of last season, St. Mark’s hired Chris Young, a former assistant college coach at Assumption College. Young admitted that it didn’t take long to realize how special of a player McLean was.
“In six years of college coaching, I’ve never really had anybody that’s had that type of skill set,” explained Young, who finished 2-6 in his first season. “He’s a great asset to have, really opens up what you can do from an X’s and O’s standpoint in terms of the amount of attention he draws from defenses, not to mention his raw athletic ability to do some pretty advance schematic stuff.”
Leading the ISL with nine touchdown receptions last season, it’s no surprise that people are instantly impressed by football ability. However, his coach says what’s more impressive is the way he carries himself as person.
“He’s one of those rear few that we need more of, especially in the game of football, where he’s got the athletic ability but he’s also just a generally good person,” said Young. “He’s very involved in the community here on campus, humble and quite. When he walks around campus, he’s almost apologetic because of the fact he’s 6-foot-6 205 and wants to blend in, which is a challenge obviously. When he gets out onto the field he flips the switch and becomes a completely different person. It’s special to see that from a kid his age”
Although it’s not clear what position UConn will line him up at on offense, one thing’s for sure, McLean is just excited for the opportunity that lies ahead but also looking forward to playing with his St. Mark’s teammates for one last season.
“I’ve been told I could be playing anywhere from tight end to any of the wide receiver positions,” explained McLean, who also plays defensive back at St. Mark’s “My main focus is just to continue to work hard, and at this time, to help my [St. Mark’s] teammates this season. I’m excited for for the future but playing football at St. Mark’s has taught me a lot and I’ve always enjoyed playing with these guys.”