Teammates who fed off his energy, admired his spirituality and loved his humor, used to be fond of saying James McClinton “would play on Sundays,” meaning in the NFL.
Nearly four years later, McClinton hasn’t come any closer than an invitation to a Kansas City Chiefs mini-camp his first summer out of school. He didn’t fit the physical prototype for an NFL defensive tackle, which in that league tends to weigh heavily. He was to the Kansas defense what Todd Reesing was to the offense, a talented, relentless competitor, a constant source of irritation for the opposing coach, a superstar who didn’t project well in the eyes of scouts.
Just as the offense hasn’t been the same since Reesing’s departure, the defense hasn’t resembled that of the Orange Bowl unit led up front by McClinton and anchored by Aqib Talib, an NFL star.
Reesing has left football behind because it left him behind. He’s working in the business world in Austin for prominent KU graduate David Booth.
McClinton? The NFL dream still burns in him, so he keeps fanning its flames, even if that means playing in the Arena Football League in Green Bay and working as a bouncer at Stadium View Bar and Grill near Lambeau Field.
McClinton recently finished his second season in the AFL and played nose guard for a Green Bay Blizzard team that lost the title game. He registered 10.5 sacks in the regular season. His weight is up to 308 pounds, and he was generously listed by the team as being 6-feet tall.
“I’d like to play football another 10 years,” said McClinton, whose last game for KU was in the Orange Bowl in January, 2008. “It’s all how long the Lord allows me to play. I’m doing his will. I would like a long career, but I don’t plan on staying in this league. I’m hoping to move on up.”
McClinton, from Garland, Texas, said he has found living in Green Bay interesting, but it’s not where he wants to spend the rest of his life.
“I just haven’t figured out what there is to do in Green Bay,” McClinton said. “There is a lot of drinking going on here. These people love to drink, and they love their football. They like to say, ‘We might not have a drinking problem, but we have a football problem.’ These fans right here, they’re a step above regular fans. They love their Packers. They’re so into them. It’s amazing, and it’s also a little weird.”
On the day of the Super Bowl, McClinton said “there were about a thousand people at the bar.”
The odds of McClinton getting an NFL shot remain long, which won’t change the fact he was a second-team All-American on a 12-1 team that has records of 8-5, 5-7 and 3-9 since.
With one of the nation’s toughest schedules in store — the first under the format in which the four remaining teams from what was known as the North play six games against teams from what was known as the South — the trend isn’t likely to reverse. McClinton has faith it will. He is nothing if not a man of faith.
“I met Turner Gill at (former teammate) Micah Brown’s sister’s wedding,” McClinton said. “He played with Micah’s dad at Nebraska. He’s a good man. He’s the best man for the job right now.”