On the sideline during the New England Patriots’ comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship on Jan. 21, few were more vocal than Shea McClellin.
The former Boise State star, in his second season with the team, was energized with another Super Bowl trip on the line. But it also was the very definition of bittersweet — he was there, but was not suited up, having spent the entire year on injured reserve.
“I was their No. 1 fan. My voice hurt afterward,” McClellin said. “I’m so happy for the guys, to be part of the ride, but it’s not fun being close and at the same time being on the outside looking in.”
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A standard week is quite different for the sixth-year linebacker. He is not practicing, often just getting in a workout each day. Though he isn’t required to do so, McClellin attends position meetings. His possible post-playing career ideas include coaching, preferably in Idaho.
When the Patriots fly to Minneapolis on Monday as they prepare to face ex-Boise State running back Jay Ajayi and the Eagles for the Super Bowl, the Marsing High graduate won’t be on the flight. He arrives Thursday, and his obligations won’t be as intense as his teammates’.
“It’s chaos, so it’s not the worst thing to not deal with all that stuff,” McClellin said. “You don’t focus on the outside stuff when you’re playing, so I actually might pay attention to that for once. I didn’t get to enjoy it with my family last year, so it’ll be nice to get that chance.”
Having his wife and two sons at home, where “I am definitely more than usual,” helps make it easier not being able to play, he said.
This was supposed to be perhaps McClellin’s biggest opportunity yet, a shot at starting for the Patriots at outside linebacker, to put pressure on opposing backfields for the five-time Super Bowl champions. The 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Bears, he had 41 tackles in 2016, second-most in his career, had a long fumble return and blocked a field goal for the Super Bowl champs.
“He’s smart, he’s athletic, he runs well, he’s got good size, he’s got experience, so he’s really a very valuable and versatile guy for us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said during training camp. “He can do a lot of different things.”
A concussion sidelined McClellin in August, and though he returned to practice in late October with hopes of being able to play again, Boston-area reports indicated he suffered another concussion that meant he would be shelved for the rest of the season.
McClellin said the setback “was tough,” but he’s dealt with a few injuries during his NFL career. Though he’s under contract for 2018, there’s a possibility his playing career has ended.
“I’m just trying to enjoy this season and do what I can to help these guys out,” McClellin said. “I’m not focused on next season. It could be the situation if the doctors say so. It can go a lot of different ways.”
New England knew how to use his athleticism, just like at Boise State, as his blocked field goal last season came after leaping over the Ravens’ line. He tried that again in last year’s Super Bowl but made contact, which is a no-no. Soon after, the NFL banned such leaps — an odd bit of history for McClellin.
“I think it’s pretty cool, honestly, but at the same time, I kinda wish I’d get the chance to do it again,” he said.
For now, McClellin is trying to appreciate his time with the Patriots, and hopefully get another Super Bowl ring. He won one last year against the Falcons, but it’s up to owner Robert Kraft if the injured players get one. McClellin said the injured reserved guys did a year ago.
“People always told me that the NFL was not going to be like college, and I’m sure that’s the case at most places, but being around here, it really reminds me of Boise State,” McClellin said. “The camaraderie the guys have, the culture of success, it’s pretty similar.”
At Boise State, no trophy was ever looked down upon, but for New England, the Lombardi Trophy is all that matters. Look no further than Belichick not wanting anything to do with the Lamar Hunt Trophy after winning the AFC.
“I love that,” McClellin said. “Even if I can’t play to help us get another one, I’m going to be the most supportive guy out there.”
BOISE STATE PLAYERS IN THE SUPER BOWL
▪ 1976: Rolly Woolsey, DB, Cowboys
▪ 1988: Markus Koch, DE, Redskins
▪ 1992: Koch, DE, Redskins*
▪ 2005: Quintin Mikell, DB, Eagles
▪ 2006: Kimo von Oelhoffen, DT, Steelers
▪ 2011: Korey Hall (Glenns Ferry High), FB, Packers
▪ 2011: Daryn Colledge, G, Packers
▪ 2014: Ryan Clady, OT, Broncos*
▪ 2014: Jeron Johnson, DB, Seahawks*
▪ 2015: Johnson, DB, Seahawks
▪ 2016: Matt Paradis (Council High), C, Broncos
▪ 2016: Clady, OT, Broncos*
▪ 2017: Shea McClellin, LB, Patriots
▪ 2018: McClellin, LB, Patriots*
▪ 2018: Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles
Winners in bold
*Did not/will not play