Rolando McClain doesn’t remember exactly when this was.
But at one point recently, he was working out in front of his Alabama home when one of his two sons was dropped off after day care.
Shortly after getting dropped off, McClain’s son was watching his father get ready to go through a ladder drill when he said, “Dad, I miss watching you play football.”
McClain went through the drill and then asked his son what he had said. His son’s response: “I want to watch you play football.”
McClain didn’t really respond. He finished his workout and went inside to shower. But after showering, he went down to his basement within which he has several pieces of memorabilia hanging up on the walls.
Once down there, the same son that was outside with him walked up to a framed picture of McClain during his time with the Oakland Raiders and repeated what he had said outside, “Dad, I want to watch you play football.”
“That was my sign,” McClain said during a phone interview with the Times Thursday. “From then, I just took it serious, worked out a little bit harder, and I’ve been training and preparing as if I’m going to go back.”
McClain retired in May at 23 shortly after he was arrested for the third time in less than two years.
He had recently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, but he felt like he needed to take some time away from football to get his life and priorities in order.
Almost a year later, he feels like he has.
He has yet to make any formal announcement regarding his plans to play this season. “Nothing is set in stone,” he says. But he expects to meet with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome Friday to discuss a possible future with Baltimore while Newsome is in Alabama.
The Ravens retain McClain’s rights should he decide to unretire. And if Newsome tells McClain that he is welcome back with Baltimore Friday, McClain said he plans on being in Owings Mills when the team begins voluntary offseason workouts April 21.
“I’m excited about the game again,” McClain said. “I’m excited to play. I’m excited to be around some damn teammates.”
Until late last year, McClain’s focus wasn’t on football at all.
He returned to school at Alabama, focused on getting his personal life in order and focused on being a good father to his two sons.
“There were a lot of changes I had to make,” McClain said. “I’ve got two little boys that look up and depend on me every day, and I want to be there for them and am going to be there for them every day. So as a man, as a Christian, as a father, you take time to set all your priorities straight.
“You take time to really figure out yourself. What’s going to make me happy? What ticks me off? All that stuff. So you really become a prisoner inside your own house, inside your own self. You’re not really talking to anybody. You just focus and try to figure out yourself.”
It wasn’t until around the winter that McClain began to seriously start thinking about football again.
“I take time to figure out myself. I got my family. I got my core beliefs. Now, you say, ‘Hey, I’m bored,’” McClain said. “And you start thinking about why you’re bored, and you realize it’s not your friends. It’s football.”
So McClain started watching football some.
Soon after, he began lifting weights in a weight room he had built in his basement.
That led to him thinking even more about football.
At the time, McClain was in the midst of a divorce. He also had his sons just every other week.
During the weeks he didn’t have his sons, McClain said he should have just put his bed in the weight room because he was in there working out two or three times a day.
“Over the course of a month or so, you say, ‘Well, I look better. I feel better mentally. Do I really actually want to [return to football]?,’” McClain said. “And then you have that doubt. Do I want to pick up and move somewhere else? Do I want to start over and have a fourth head coach, a fourth defense, a fourth defensive coordinator in four years of me playing the game? And to make a long story short, I said, ‘[Expletive] it, I want to go back and play football.’
“I woke up one day and said, ‘I want to go back and play football,’ and I don’t want to just play football. I want to dominate the game of football.”
McClain didn’t do that for the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders took the former All-American inside linebacker with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, but McClain never lived up to expectations with Oakland and was released last year before eventually signing a one-year contract with the Ravens.
However, Baltimore still feels like McClain has the potential to be a game-changing-type player in the NFL like he was at the University of Alabama.
“If he’s working his rear end off, then I’m kind of excited about him,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at the annual NFL owners meetings in Orlando earlier this month.
Harbaugh has yet to talk to McClain. Owner Steve Bisciotti has yet to speak to him either. But Newsome has been in contact with McClain’s agent. He has also talked about McClain during conversations with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Bisciotti told the Times at the owners meetings that Saban has had “glowing reviews” of what McClain has done with his life since retiring.