TERRE HAUTE —
At least two times in the second half last Friday, West Vigo lineman Sam McClain had to be helped off the field in crucial moments of the Vikings’ Western Indiana Conference high school football game against South Vermillion.
And at least two times he was right back on the field as soon as possible, as his teammates and coaches knew he would be.
“He’s played through a lot of injuries, and he’ll continue to play through them,” coach Jeff Cobb said of McClain this week. “He’s as tough as they come.”
“I’ve had a hip injury — a bruised joint — and it’s just nagging,” the senior explained this week. “I just have to tough it out and move on.
“It started to flare up last year,” McClain continued. “At times [the pain] is sharp, and it’s one of those things that you always have in the back of your mind … but it’s nothing that’s going to keep me out of the game, that’s for sure. When it gets hurt, I just have to come off the field and stretch it.”
Cobb and the Vikings are glad that McClain — who is one of their captains — has such a high pain tolerance for a number of reasons: he’s one of their best players, he’s one of their most experienced players and — at 6-foot and 215 pounds — he’s even one of their biggest players.
“I’m the second- or third-biggest we’ve got,” he said with a wry smile this week, wondering if he would be big enough to play football in college somewhere.
“He was getting playing time as a freshman, and he was starting as a sophomore,” Cobb pointed out this week. “He’s always been a big cog on our offensive line.”
That isn’t the only place McClain plays.
“I’ve gone both ways every year, and I’m on all the [special teams],” said McClain, who lines up this year at strongside guard on offense and as a three-technique tackle on defense. “I’m my own sub, I guess.”
As good a player as he is, McClain is even more valuable for his intangibles, his coach says.
“The best thing about him is leadership,” Cobb said. “He’s a leader, and that can be both vocal and by example.”
“I have that experience, and right now we have a very young line,” McClain said when questioned about his leadership role. “I tell my guys [on the line], ‘Respond under pressure.’ In a tough spot, you’ve got to slow down your mind and perform.
“I try to be their mentor, and by next year they’ll all step up at the same time.”
Both coach and player feel the younger Vikings made great strides in that 14-6 win over the Wildcats last week, which should help them tonight at Edgewood (7 p.m. kickoff) and the rest of the season.
“They learned to win; they have that feeling now,” McClain said of the less-experienced Vikings. “They’re starting to open their eyes and see the little things they can do to perform to their potential … they grew up, and they’ll be able to show that [potential] now.”
Potential is actually one of McClain’s least-favorite words because he hears it so often, he revealed this week. But his distaste for the concept isn’t because he hasn’t reached his own.
“He’s a 3.5 [grade-point average] student and a great two-sport athlete in football and wrestling,” Cobb said. “He’s one of the kids I never have to worry about.”
Wrestling? Yes, chronic, nagging pain doesn’t prevent McClain from competing in two sports in which his hip is likely to be twisted, strained or banged on at any moment.
So, he was asked, what is the attraction? What keeps him coming back so willingly?
“There’s so much [to love about football], it’s hard to say,” he answered. “I’ve had a passion for it my whole life.
“I guess the best thing for me is looking at the other players and coaches as family. We can be brothers out there.”