Football By: Callie Puryear
AUBURN, Ala. – Senior linebacker Zakoby McClain says the Auburn Family is what brought him to the Plains originally. Players, coaches and the overall chemistry and feel of the team are what ultimately swayed McClain’s decision to sign with Auburn in 2018.
“The Auburn Family is just a big collection of people who care for each other and want the best for each other,” he said. “They have your back wherever they may be, and you feel that, and I will miss it when I’m not here every day.
“Actually, I will miss a lot about Auburn – the atmosphere, the people, my teammates, game days. It’s a wonderful place. But I’m not gone yet. There are still things to accomplish this season, to make the Auburn Family proud.”
One-third of the way into his senior season, the former four-star prospect out of state champion Valdosta High School in Georgia provides leadership for the TIgers.
“I want to be a better leader and a better, more vocal player for the team this season,” he said.
This attitude is what helped McClain and his teammates adapt and take on an unprecedented season under the shadows of the COVID pandemic last fall. Despite so many challenges and unexpected turns, McClain pushed himself and persevered, jumping into the starting lineup after K.J. Britt was injured and going on to have one of the most productive seasons in Auburn history, leading the NCAA with 113 tackles while ranking among the top three in the SEC with 10.3 tackles per game.
A preseason All-American who has been named to this year’s watch lists for the Butkus Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy, Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy, McClain, nicknamed the Ricochet Rabbit, is eager to push himself and accomplish even more this season.
“I want to make the other players want to be better so we can improve each and every day,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of goals – to make more plays, get my team hyped up to make more plays, win my awards and be a better leader to win more games.”
“We have a lot of good players on this team who are all committed to the program and the process.”
Before committing to Auburn, McClain had dreams of being on the field playing Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He certainly achieved his goal and beyond during the 2019 matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium, when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 37-31 lead in the third quarter, McClain’s favorite on-field memory so far.
As a veteran on the team, McClain offers words of advice to the Tigers’ younger players.
“I would tell an incoming player to trust the process. Just wait on your time because your time will come,” he said. “Lock in and stay in the playbook. Once you learn it, you’ll have a better chance of playing on the field.”
McClain, who graduated in August with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, says this advice of staying in the playbook has been important for him personally.
“After I try to get my schoolwork done and out of the way, I like to spend the rest of the time in my playbook and keeping that mindset.”
Once he leaves Auburn, McClain wants to continue to excel in his football career, ultimately playing in the NFL and making it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
McClain’s time at Auburn has prepared him to pursue those goals.
“My experience on the team here taught me a lot about adversity. It taught me everything about time management and how to do things on my own,” he said. “I have learned that it’s personal, the responsibility to get better every day. That’s 100 percent who I am, to do everything right and do it better every time. And love the game the most.”
Callie Puryear is a student worker in Auburn Athletics media relations