Football came easy for Jacques McClendon.
In high school he was a three-year starter on offense and defense at the Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN. He earned All-State honors twice. As a senior he played in the Army All-American Bowl. Gatorade named him their Player of the Year in Tennessee.
Rivals ranked him a four-star recruit and the No. 2 player in the state. With other SEC offers on the table, he chose to stay home, signing with the University of Tennessee. He made his first start as a freshman, in an Outback Bowl loss to Penn State.
The next two years he played in almost every one of the Vols’ games, but only started half of them. That should’ve been the first sign. To scouts it probably was. But McClendon returned for his senior year, started all 13 games and then graduated with a master’s degree. By the time he reached the NFL Draft, he was back to the McClendon he was in high school, back to Jacques McClendon: the local boy who made it.
He, like so many others, couldn’t have been ready for the way the NFL would demolish him.
The Colts drafted him in the fourth round and let him go a year later. He joined the Lions in 2011. A year later we discovered him as an overzealous third string guard. The Lions cut him that preseason. He spent most of 2012 out of football. The Steelers added him to their practice squad for two days. Late in the season, the Falcons put McClendon on their practice squad for an extended stay. He spent the 2013 preseason in Atlanta, then went to the Jaguars in a waiver move.
In Jacksonville, he spent the season on the bench before he injuries forced him into the final two games of a lost season.
Now, after five years with five different teams, McClendon is on the precipice of the most important game of his life — and its overall result won’t matter.
Last week McClendon started at right guard against the Bears. He wasn’t terrible, but Chicago’s Jeremiah Ratliff did have him grasping at air a couple times. Rookie Brandon Linder, who is the Jaguars’ future right guard anyway, didn’t have as much trouble. Later in the game the ESPN announcers kept discussing Jacksonville’s plan to use four different centers in the game, rotating them out each quarter. McClendon was slated to take over in the fourth.