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Monday, September 1, 2014
McClain: 'I still love game like a kid'

By Tim MacMahon

IRVING, Texas -- There are parts of his job that twice-retired middle linebacker Rolando McClain readily admits he does not enjoy.

For example, he could definitely do without dealing with the media, as McClain said as politely as possible as a swarm of reporters surrounded him Monday, six days before his debut with the Dallas Cowboys.

McClain
McClain at least sees the value in training camp, especially after a 20-month layoff from football. That doesn’t mean he liked it, especially as his body got used to the grind again after his long break from the game.

"If I lied and said I did enjoy camp, then you shouldn’t ask me any more questions," McClain said, laughing.

The real fun starts soon for McClain, who will likely start at middle linebacker for a Dallas defense desperate for playmakers.

McClain cut off questions about Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. He is adamant that he has to simply focus on the next practice, a fair point for a guy who has had problems staying on the practice field this summer. But he is clearly anxious for his first regular-season action since November 2012.

This is the kind of opportunity that makes the work worth it.

"I still love the game like I’m an 8-, 9-year old kid," McClain said. "It’s just about getting back into it, building chemistry with some of these guys, some trust, and just playing and having fun really."

The 25-year-old McClain’s passion for the game can certainly be questioned after he gave it up twice after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Oakland Raiders, but he insisted that was never his problem. He had to learn how to be a professional, which required a lot of growing up for a guy whose rocky road has included three arrests.

Over the past year, McClain has cut ties with a lot of his friends and family from his Alabama hometown, attempting to eliminate the bad influences from his life. He has made his two sons his priority and made his faith his foundation.

McClain doesn’t want to be the same guy who came into the league with such high expectations after being an All-American at Alabama. That guy failed in football and life.

"I’m just an overall better man," McClain said. "That makes me a better football player, a better boyfriend, a better father. You’ve got to start with the base, man, get yourself right and then fill in the blanks from there. That’s what I had to do."

The Cowboys acquired McClain’s rights in a minimum-risk deal with the Baltimore Ravens because they had a massive void at middle linebacker after Sean Lee's injury. After consulting with Alabama coach Nick Saban, head coach Jason Garrett and the Dallas decision-makers determined that it was worth taking a chance on McClain.

Given the low risk and Saban’s recommendation, the Cowboys could deal with McClain’s character red flags. Of course, that is the case only because of his rare talent.

The Cowboys really need McClain to live up to his potential to have any realistic hope of fielding a respectable defense.

"If you live up or care about somebody’s expectations, you’ll always let them down," McClain said. "So you set your own expectations.

"What are my expectations? I don’t have to reveal them."

McClain punctuated the thought with a laugh. At least football is fun for him again as the regular season approaches.