The best player on the Boise State defense never thought he would end up playing football in college.
No, Shea McClellin figured basketball was his sport.
He grew up 45 minutes away from Boise State playing both sports in high school. But then reality hit his junior year. “I was a little bit better at basketball,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I am 6-3, but it’s hard to play point guard when you're 250. So I was like I might try football out.”
McClellin started attending football camps, including one at Boise State. He drew interest from several other teams, but they all wanted him to play tight end. McClellin played running back and linebacker in high school, but Boise State was the only place that envisioned him as a defensive end.
That is the position he wanted to play. That is the school he grew up cheering on. So after he got a scholarship offer from the Broncos, he accepted. Easy decision.
“It's been amazing,” McClellin said. “It's like a dream, basically. I never thought of it. Living it is crazy.”
But perhaps just as incredible as how McClellin landed at Boise State has been his transformation into one of the best defensive ends in the country -- despite learning the position as a freshman in college. McClellin leads the No. 5 Broncos in tackles (21) and sacks (3.5) as they get ready to play Fresno State on Friday night.
When he came Boise State, he took a grayshirt year. That allowed him to begin preparing for the college game, and to learn his new position. He credits that year off as being instrumental to his success.
McClellin dishes off most of the credit to his coaches, including defensive coordinator/line coach Pete Kwiatkowski. He also spent extra time in the weight room and film room to get better. Now he is the anchor of a strong defensive line, a player who has emerged as a three-year starter.
He started the season off with a huge performance, picking up two sacks and seven tackles in an important win over Georgia. Last week against Nevada, McClellin had a sack and six tackles. He lists those games as two of the better ones in his career.
It is no coincidence they both came this year.
“I think in the offseason, I was working better, and the coaches helped me out a lot,” he said. “I just feel more comfortable this year than I have in past years. The comfort feeling helps out a lot.”
In Fresno State, McClellin and the Broncos will be going against a familiar opponent, though they are not members of the same conference this season. Boise State beat Fresno State nine of the 10 times they played as members of the WAC, including 51-0 last year.
McClellin expects an extra motivated Fresno State team, but that is no different than what they expect every week. This will be the final game Boise State will be on ESPN this season, but McClellin says players are not paying much attention to that.
He has not paid much attention to where he stacks up against other players at his position, either.
“I don't look at those kind of things,” he said. “I try to stay away from what everyone is talking about.”