Well-built LB McCloud carries strong potential Rookie aims to build career with Ravens, house for his mother

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The dream ends for Ravens rookie middle linebacker Tyrus McCloud almost exactly where it began, or at least down the road.

McCloud, one of six children, grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. If he makes the Ravens' roster, he already has plans to build his mother, Armie, a home in nearby Pompano Beach. Training camp begins next month.

"Whatever she wants and I can afford, she gets," McCloud said. "I just keep telling her to hold on a little bit longer. She has helped me overcome a lot."

Barring an unforeseen situation, McCloud is a cinch to make the Ravens. He is a 6-foot-2, 260-pound sculptured specimen who bench-presses 480 pounds and squats 620. He led Louisville in tackles the past two seasons, including 144 last year.

Potential?

McCloud has huge amounts, enough to earn the label as the best middle linebacker in college football last season. The Ravens feel fortunate to have gotten him in the fourth round.

"We liked his instinctiveness," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "This guy made plays and was a productive player for three or four years. He was physical at the point of attack."

McCloud already has come a long way from the days when he was bullied in his south Florida neighborhood. His father left home when McCloud was 2, and his mother worked two jobs. He stayed away from drugs and off the streets by playing football and pounding the weights. McCloud's mother made him play in the junior leagues because she believed he needed to get tougher.

"I think I was about 10 or 11 when I started, and we were just running around back then," McCloud said. "But that's also the time you start developing that mentality of hitting people, and by high school I knew what I wanted to do.

"I've been lifting weights since the eighth grade. At the time, it was just something to do to stay off the streets. I wanted to do something positive, so I decided to get stronger."

Strength is one of McCloud's strengths. At the NFL scouting combine in February, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times. Only Jamie Nails, a 375-pound offensive tackle from Florida A&M;, did more at 37.

McCloud's instinct is another strength. There is no finesse and speed in his game, just brute power and intelligence.

"He is not your fluid linebacker like Hugh Green or Lawrence Taylor or Derrick Thomas," said Sal Sunseri, his position coach at Louisville. "But he is a special bird if you let him do what he does best -- play sideline to sideline. He won't have many sacks, but he'll give you 100 tackles a year. And he has so much darn strength. He's the best linebacker I've ever coached."

Ray Lewis, the Ravens' starting middle linebacker, said, "You can see he is an exceptional talent. He has skill and is a good listener. He is going to be a great one. Soon."

McCloud knows his playing time likely will be limited this season to special teams and as a backup to Lewis. That's something he can live with for now, anyway.

He believes his day will come.

"The biggest problem is learning the scheme, but even that's not difficult because we used a similar scheme at Louisville," McCloud said. "I'm learning and I'll do whatever is needed. But three years from now I see myself still in the league helping the team through a leading role while also serving as a role model."

McCloud wants to be a role model. He is soft-spoken, articulate and a born-again Christian who looks forward to working with children. He has a strong family bond, especially with older sister Daphne, who has the virus that causes AIDS.

McCloud's message comes through loud and clear.

"I've told my sister to hang in there, that everything will be all right," McCloud said. "I've told her everything is possible through God, and that everything happens for a reason, we just have to find the positive side. She has accepted the Lord now and she is doing fine.

"I grew up in south Florida, where people were killing each other's parents and friends. After a while, you just become accustomed to it. My goal is to turn that around and deliver a positive message."

First, he has a house to build.

"That's what I promised her," McCloud said. "That's not so far off anymore."

Pub Date: 6/05/97

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