How does it feel to go from undrafted rookie in 2010 to starter against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night?
It's like a dream come true. I'm still dreaming right now. I'm not settled with where I am now, but I'm happy and blessed to be where I am now. College career [at Marshall] was great, but unfortunately, I wasn't drafted, so that was a bummer. But it was also a wake-up call to bring me down off Cloud Nine. I just had to keep battling. I had some off-the-field mountains to cross last year with my family, but I overcame that, and I'm still overcoming that. It's pushing me forward. I used that in the offseason, and I just kept battling and I just kept fighting against myself more than anything else. I overcame that obstacle, and that's what has brought me here today. I kept fighting, everybody kept believing in me, and I've got people like Jameel [McClain] and [Dannell] Ellerbe encouraging me to keep learning the plays and keep being disciplined on and off the field. They had enough faith in me when the opportunity came to let me start.
How did you overcome the disappointment of not getting drafted?
Jameel McClain helped me out a lot during the process. We talked a lot. He wasn't drafted, and he just let me know that we've got to keep fighting. We're always on the burner, our backs are against the wall. We've got to keep fighting each and every day to let them know that we're not here to be relaxed and things like that. We're here to work, and that's what he's teaching me.
You spent your rookie season on the practice squad. In hindsight, was that a good place to start for you?
Everybody would prefer to be on the active roster, but clearly I wasn't ready at the time. I learned a lot last year from my time on the practice squad. It let me get into the flow of the game and see the tempo. I learned a lot of things from being on the practice squad that I probably wouldn't have learned by being on the active roster.
How does a rush backer at Marshall become a starting inside linebacker in the NFL?
It's been a long process. They must see something in me to play inside or something like that. But I'm in the moment. I'm enjoying every minute that I'm having right now, and I'm learning everything that I can so that I can be more valuable. I like playing outside, I like having my hand in the ground. But if they need me to play inside, I'm going to play inside. I'm just learning the game. I'm still growing. It's a big world, and I'm learning it.
How much of an adjustment is there to go from outside to inside linebacker?
Outside, you've got the sideline there to help you. But on the inside, you can go either way, and there's a long ways to go. It's busier on the inside than it is on the outside. That's the hardest part.
Do you have a preference?
On the field. It doesn't matter. Wherever they need me, I'm going to play.
Describe your comfort level at inside linebacker.
I'm still developing. You're always going to keep developing, but my comfort level has risen. The first two series of that San Francisco game, I was nervous, but my teammates just kept telling me to relax, be calm, and to let my body move as fast as my brain moves. That's what I've been doing lately.
What does it mean to lead the team in tackles on special teams?
I was learning, once again, from Jameel. He helped me out a lot. Basically, it was about watching film. You've just got to watch film and just play ball. Be a bully. That's something that we preach around here. We just want to go out and manhandle as much as we can.
Can you describe the difficulty of playing coverage units and trying to tackle a kick or punt returner?
You can see it on film. My first kickoff of the year, I clearly missed the guy on the 5-yard line in the Pittsburgh game. I never played it in college. I'm just not getting the game feel of it, and you get used to it after a while. You just have to go down and make a play. It really shows who you are. You're going to let up or you're going to keep going.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My parents. I lost my mother [Constance Barr] last year. So I can't talk to her like I want to. She used to give me feedback all the time. And my father [Albert McClellan]. He always gives me something to relate to that happened in his life.
How did your mother influence you?
Anybody that knew my mother knew that she was a die hard sports fan. Her nickname was "Sporty C." When the time came, she really didn't want me to come home when she got sick, when she was on her deathbed. She told me to stay here and keep practicing. I want to say that two weeks before Thanksgiving, I left and went home to be with her. She was upset with me at first, but I could see that she was relaxing and she wasn't stressing about the pain or stuff like that. She kept fighting. She fought the cancer for about three years. She was beating it at one point, but then when I was in college, they took her off of chemo, and she started having pain and bleeding again. She didn't let the doctors know because she wanted to watch one more football game. She fought it as much as she could, and once she saw that football game, then she told us. So she battled until the bitter end. She had attitude. She was stubborn, but she was going to make sure that she got her point across. Physically or mentally, she was going to get into your head, and that's something I try to do. You might get a shot on me, but I'm going to let you know either by talking to you or you're going to feel me. I've always tried to be like her.
So are you stubborn like she was?
I'm more like my father. He kind of played mind games a lot. He's one of those guys.
Did your mother have a background in sports?
She played high school volleyball, basketball, softball. I want to say she was the all-time leading rebounder at her high school. She went off to college and set a rebounding record there. She was a track star in high school. Until she had me and my brother, she was playing softball in college. But she kept playing after that. She played until she had cancer.