Zakoby McClain hungry for more, wants to ‘dominate’ after leading NCAA in tackles last year

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No one in college football had more tackles last season than Zakoby McClain.

The Auburn linebacker was tied for first nationally with 113 total saves in his junior year, as he was all over the field in defense of the Tigers. Despite his ridiculous output – averaging 10.3 tackles per game and becoming the first Auburn player to have a double-digit tackle average for a season since Dontarious Thomas (11 per game) in 2001 – the McClain name is was noticeably absent from the playoff accolades.

He was not among the finalists for the Butkus Award or any of the country’s other top defensive honors, and he was left out of the All-America and All-SEC teams altogether. It all left McClain with a chip on his shoulder and an unfinished business as he chose to return for his senior season in the Plains.

“It gives me a lot of motivation – to keep working hard and being a leader, and trying to win more games with my team,” said McClain.

McClain has garnered more attention this offseason, earning recognition as the All-SEC preseason second-team and making the watchlists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, and the Bednarik Award, which is awarded to the best defensive player in college. Soccer.

That’s not enough for the senior linebacker, who was first recognized for his 100-yard pick-six in Auburn’s 2019 Iron Bowl victory over Alabama. No, McClain thinks he has more in store for his senior campaign in Auburn’s new-look defense, and on the first day of fall camp he made a noble proclamation.

“I have a lot of goals,” said McClain. “I do more of them. How many tackles did I have last year? I earn more than that. I haven’t even started the first two games, so I’m going to dominate. My goal is to make more games, get my team to do more games, earn my rewards and just be a better leader and win more games and get better every day, 100%. And I like the game the most.

McClain’s goals are not beyond reach. His 113 tackles last year came in a condensed season, with a 10-game SEC schedule and one bowl game, compared to the 12-game regular season the Tigers will have this year, as well as games playoff potentials. And, as he noted, he didn’t even start Auburn’s first two games last year, but saw his snaps increase dramatically following KJ Britt’s thumb injury early in the season.

Along with having more opportunities to play this fall and the chip he has on his shoulder over the past seven+ months, McClain has something else going for him after the program’s change of coach during the season. dead. His role in defense of Derek Mason will be somewhat different from his job in defense of Kevin Steele. Mason’s defense is designed to siphon off linebacker plays and let them play in space, and while McClain was rarely on the field in third downs last season – as Auburn was 121st nationally in defense at the third try – he said he expects that to change this fall.

“He’s my guy,” defensive lineman Colby Wooden said. “He flies everywhere. For us on the D line we want to give him a great opportunity to close the gaps and crush the guys. That’s all we focused on, trying to get him to close the gaps. He moves well and is doing better. He’s improved from where he was last year.

After playing 211 pounds last season, McClain also got bigger thanks to Auburn’s strength and conditioning program during the offseason, with fellow linebacker Chandler Wooten describing him as a “freak” in the spring. He’s entering his final year at a weight of 219 pounds after a discussion in January with new linebacker coach Jeff Schmedding, who told him in their first conversation that there are a few things that he needs to improve physically as well as with his technique.

Schmedding and Mason didn’t hesitate to challenge McClain to be better, and the man known as Ricochet Rabbit has taken those challenges to heart, confident that it will all pay off on the pitch this fall.

“They don’t just let me do what I want,” McClain said. “They make sure I’m doing everything right. Even though I do it well, they want me to do it better. It’s pretty much right there.

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on twitter @Tomas_Verde.



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