Sophomore defensive back McClain excelling on defense

Sophomore defensive back McClain excelling on defense

November 19
04:03 2015

Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer

@ReeceTapout15

Despite playing quarterback in high school and earning All-District honors, sophomore defensive back Kishawn McClain has always enjoyed defense.

As a quarterback, an athlete often has the proverbial target on his back, with 11 players across the line of scrimmage trying to put a lick on him.

It’s the exact opposite for a defender.

“That’s why I’ve always liked defense,” McClain said. “You get to hit someone without getting in trouble.”

Through 10 games of the 2015 season, McClain is tied for eigth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in solo tackles with 62. He’s made 87 total tackles on the season, which is good for the 45th best in the country.

According to interim head coach Mike Canales, it should come as no surprise.

“He likes to hit people,” Canales said. “That was always a plus. He’s an aggressive style player, and we knew he would fit in defensively. He likes to get downfield, and that’s why he’s leading the team and playing like he is.”

A two-way player at Terry High School in Rosenberg, Texas, McClain accounted for over 1,300 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. After his high school career was over, he was named to Dave Campbell’s Top 300 Recruits and was named one of the top 12 athletes in Texas.

But the success he experienced on offense mattered little to McClain.

“I didn’t really ever want to play quarterback,” he said. “Our starting quarterback broke his collarbone, and I was just the backup.”

While he may not have wanted to play quarterback at the next level, scouts and recruiters had other ideas. McClain said the majority of schools only offered him a split scholarship, meaning it would not guarantee him a place on defense.

That’s when North Texas called.

“Coach [Noah Joseph], who is now at the University of Indiana, gave me a chance,” McClain said. “He came and watched me. He came and talked to my family. And now, here I am.”

North Texas sophomore defensive back Kishawn McClain (23) led the team in tackles against Marshall with a total of 14. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas sophomore defensive back Kishawn McClain (23) led the team in tackles against Marshall with a total of 14. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Aside from offering him a scholarship on defense, McClain said the decision came down to one other important thing.

“It felt like home,” he said. “Everybody brought me into the program. It was a great experience, and I loved it when I came up here.”

Another impact Joseph and the North Texas coaches had on McClain’s recruiting process was the commitment to family. Joseph specifically took time to speak with many members of McClain’s family, including his late grandfather, Ira, who died the week leading up to North Texas’ road game against the University of Southern Mississippi in October.

Ira played an integral part in McClain’s life after his father was killed in a car crash when he was seven years old. McClain said he thought of his grandfather as a mentor and dedicated the remainder of the 2015 season to him.

“He was always there for me,” McClain said. “He talked to me before my games. He watched all of my games. I just want to play hard for him.”

McClain was so close to his grandfather that he actually lived with until he graduated high school, which he said made his death particularly jarring.

“After my father died, I stayed with [Ira],” McClain said. “I actually just moved out of his house two years ago. It’s been pretty rough, but I’ll be alright.”

Despite the adversity he has faced off the field, McClain has excelled on it.  During his first season in a Mean Green uniform in 2014, McClain was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team. Along with playing in all 12 games, the defensive back recorded 39 tackles and an interception.

But he did not stop there. After North Texas lost two of its starting defensive backs in senior Kenny Buyers and freshman Cedric Fernandes, McClain found himself playing an even larger role in the secondary.

“You see the leadership he has,” Canales said. “When he’s back there and he’s talking, they listen. That’s when you hear him the most—on the field.”

Senior linebacker Anthony Wallace said McClain is a top-echelon talent and has been a valuable asset to the team.

“He’s an explosive player,” Wallace said. “He’s big time. Kishawn has always been a leader, and when [Buyers and Fernandes] went down, he just kept being himself.”

The explosiveness McClain displays on the field has led the sophomore to have aspirations to play in the National Football League. It is also one reason he decided to commit to playing defense instead of offense.

“I felt like [playing defense] was a better chance,” Kishawn said. “I want to play in the NFL. I want to have that shot.”

With two years of eligibility remaining, he has plenty of time left in a Mean Green uniform to strive for his dream. And while the defensive back has goals for life after college, he said his focus remains on one thing.

“I just need to stay humble, successful and healthy,” Kishawn said. ”Keep playing football, that’s all I need to do.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore defensive back Kishawn McClain (23) tackles Portland State junior wide receiver, Chase Loftin (85). Ryan Vance | Senior Staff Photographer

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