Rolando McClain felt so full of anger before he walked away from the game that he was worried he would do something he would regret.
"I felt like Aaron Hernandez, like I just wanted to kill somebody," McClain said in an interview for this week's ESPN The Magazine.
He eventually returned to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he had been a star at Alabama, to get his life together. Among the goals he decided to set for himself: To finish his degree.
The peaceful life in a college town stands in stark contrast to the pressures and trouble he experienced in his NFL life.
According to the interview, from the moment he signed a contract with the Raiders for a guaranteed $23 million, he became the target of friends and relatives. During a six-month span, he said he spent almost $600,000, mostly on cars, to satisfy requests for money.
He started to lose his love for the game and kept getting into trouble off the field. In December 2011, he was arrested in a shooting. In January 2013, he was arrested for having his car windows tinted too dark and for providing a false identity to police. Ten days after signing with the Ravens, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
McClain felt that if he stayed on the same path, he "would have ended up locked in a cage like an animal. That had to be the only outcome."
Raised in a single-parent home with guns, violence and drugs all around him, McClain ran away at 15 and lived on friends' couches. Football was an outlet for his growing anger. But he said "football was my mask."
He has thought about attending therapy but isn't sure.
"I don't know if I'm ready to know, man, why I was so angry," he said.
For now, he has found some peace away from the game, though he does hope to return to the NFL, maybe as soon as next season.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.