Shea McClellin grew up on a farm in Idaho but never lost sight of his NFL dream
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org May 9, 2012 9:10PM
Updated: June 11, 2012 10:21AM
CALDWELL, Idaho — As he approached
a gate on his
grandparents’ farm on Chicken Dinner Road, Bears first-round draft pick Shea McClellin yelled and jumped as a wasp buzzed around him.
‘‘I hate wasps and insects,’’ McClellin said, shaking his body and swiping at his black T-shirt, as though something were crawling on him.
Later, when a frog leaped into a pond on the farm, he once again shifted uneasily.
This, of course, cast doubt on all the predraft talk about his toughness and prompted his grandmother Terry to shake her head and roll her eyes.
‘‘Oh, brother,’’ she said.
Terry and her husband, Jerry, have lived in this farming community — rife with wineries, apple orchards, onions, mint and sugar beets — for about 30 years, rearing upwards of 400 ducklings, dozens of chickens, cows, donkeys and goats, a handful of foster kids, four children and one grandchild.
‘‘I just love kids,’’ Terry said. ‘‘We had the ability and finances to do it.’’
Now, though, McClellin is fulfilling his NFL dream.
Projected as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick after his final season as a defensive end at Boise State, McClellin experienced one of the most precipitous rises in recent memory, culminating with his selection by the Bears with the 19th overall pick in draft. Once he signs his contract, he’ll become a millionaire — cornerback Prince Amukamara of the New York Giants, the
No. 19 pick last year, received a $4.4 million signing bonus — and free up his grandparents to complete some decades-old home-improvement projects.
‘‘We’re going to redo the bathroom and kitchen, finish the walls,’’ Terry said. ‘‘We’ve always had so many kids that our money has always gone to them. But we can finish our house now.’’
This is the only home McClellin has known since he was born in August 1989. His mother, Laura, had him at 21 and told her parents, ‘‘I can’t do it.’’
‘‘I said, ‘Fine, we’ll watch him,’ ’’ Terry recalled.
Laura is grateful.
‘‘I thank them for that,’’ Laura said. ‘‘I’m glad they were able to help, and I’m glad he stayed in the family. I’m very proud of him. He deserves it all.’’
When McClellin was younger, his grandfather commuted between the farm and Seattle, where he worked as a safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration. When he was home, though, Jerry tackled a long list of chores, usually recruiting McClellin to help.
Always nearby was McClellin’s best friend, a golden retriever named Rufus.
‘‘That dog would run into a fence and bounce off of it; he just had to be as dumb as a rock,’’ Terry said. ‘‘But he loved that little boy. You’d see Shea, and you’d see Rufus.’’
McClellin and Rufus wandered the farm together, peeking into the pond, cruising by the cows or taking a nap next to one another in the grass. But Rufus was killed by a passing car when McClellin was about 7 years old.
As he got older, McClellin helped Terry feed the ducks and move their pen. He developed such a knack for building fences that he once worked for a commercial fencing company.
By middle school, though, McClellin had found his passion: sports. He played them all, from wrestling to track to basketball, baseball and football.
His favorite was basketball, and he was the only player from his part of the state to make a regional team when he was 14.
‘‘We dropped him off south of Seattle, and he went on a trip to Italy,’’ Jerry recalled. ‘‘But when he came back, he said, ‘I want to play football.’ ’’
Jerry and Terry didn’t ask questions. They just supported him, with Terry not missing any of McClellin’s sporting events in middle or high school. She drove her blue Jeep all over the Northwest, once getting lost for hours while trying to find a gym in Oregon.
‘‘I never looked for her because I knew she’d be there,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘I think people look for people if they don’t know if they’ll be there or not.’’
Though he was a skilled basketball player, McClellin, who stands 6-3, didn’t see himself earning a Division I college scholarship.
Besides, football was in McClellin’s DNA. His father, Jon Youngblood, was never active in his life, but Youngblood played receiver at Boise State, ranking second in school history with an average of 23.25 yards per catch. After a promising season in 1988, though, Youngblood was sandwiched by two defenders during practice and ruptured his spleen, effectively ending his playing career.
McClellin sees and talks with his mother often, but he never saw his father.
‘‘The only thing I take from it is, I’ll never do that to my kid,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘Even if I was to have a kid right now, I would have taken care of him.’’
According to the Idaho Department of Corrections, Youngblood is on parole after a DUI arrest.
Keep them close
On Tuesday, McClellin addressed all the students in the schools in Marsing, Idaho. Upon his arrival, Terry met him near the curb. Immediately, she chided him.
‘‘You didn’t shave!’’ she said.
‘‘I have to go with the rugged look, so I look older,’’ McClellin said.
Inside the gym, McClellin told the students about setting goals, studying hard and believing they can accomplish anything.
‘‘You’re from a small town. So what?’’ he told them.
The students pressed him about his favorite teacher and coach, as well as what other NFL team he would want to play for. Ever the diplomat, McClellin danced around each question.
Afterward, students mobbed him for an autograph. One of them was Ethan Anderson, a 14-year-old who said he was inspired by McClellin’s message.
‘‘I thought it was pretty cool,’’ said Anderson, who dreams of becoming a mechanic or professional football or baseball player. ‘‘Hearing all that stuff makes me want to try harder. I always thought it was impossible [to play in the NFL] coming from this school. I should be able to do the same thing.
‘‘Or at least try.’’
McClellin admitted having the same fear when he was growing up. He received scholarship offers from Idaho, Idaho State and Boise State, but he was considered a two-star recruit.
‘‘I wanted to play in the NFL,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘Did I think I could do it? No. I never thought it was possible.’’
Boise State coach Chris Petersen noticed McClellin as a high school junior at a Denver Broncos football camp. He wasn’t initially overwhelmed.
‘‘He wasn’t one of those guys that you were blown away by,’’ Petersen said.
But when he arrived on campus, McClellin flashed everything that made him a first-round draft pick: athleticism, instincts and toughness.
‘‘Kids get stronger and faster,’’ Petersen said. ‘‘But the playmakers are the playmakers from a young age, and that’s what he was.’’
Tony Peppley, McClellin’s uncle, served as another father figure in his life. When McClellin was 15, Peppley took him on a mission trip to Papua, New Guinea. He also dragged him along for family vacations and accompanied him on his college recruiting trips.
When it came time to select an agent, Peppley fielded all the requests and eventually recommended REP1 Sports, based in Irvine, Calif.
Peppley, though, said McClellin becoming an NFL player didn’t matter to him.
‘‘Any of us would have been just as proud if he were a firefighter,’’ Peppley said. ‘‘I’m more proud of the fact that people see him as a good kid than as a great player.
‘‘He’s just become a fantastic young man, and that gives me more gratification than being a first-round draft pick.’’