The interview will have to wait.
Practice ended a few minutes ago at Jets training camp, but Steve McLendon still has work to do. The veteran nose tackle heads to an area adjacent to the field and begins working on some rush moves. A Jets staffer tells a waiting reporter that McLendon will speak to him when he is done. McLendon is not trying to be rude, but he has work to do.
“You have to continue to work on your craft because the day you stop working, that’s the day you start falling off and I never want to fall off,” McLendon says when he is ready to be interviewed.
So far, the 33-year-old has not fallen off.
McLendon has been a survivor. He joined the Jets in 2016 as a free agent when they were coming off a 10-6 season and had a veteran-heavy team ready to make a run at the playoffs. A year later, McLendon was one of the few veterans left. Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris and Eric Decker were all gone.
There were questions whether McLendon would survive, but never in his mind.
“I look at it as it’s not to survive, it’s to thrive and get better,” McLendon said. “The coaching staff and everybody here believes in me. They understand I’m not just here to survive. I’m here to thrive and get better, not just one day but it’s every single day.”
Three seasons later, McLendon is still here and he has the valuable role of mentoring the young players in the Jets’ locker room, especially top draft pick Quinnen Williams. Both are from Alabama and share the same position, but they are separated by 12 years in age.
McLendon is the perfect player to mold Williams. While some players would be threatened by the No. 3 pick joining their position group, McLendon has embraced it. McLendon is the oldest player on the Jets and the most experienced player they have.
“To me, I look at it like this. When you have been blessed with so many different type of gifts and skills, you need to pass it along,” McLendon said. “It’s not just Q, but the rest of the young guys, too. I have the opportunity to show them what it feels like and what it is to be a professional athlete. Coaches always talk about, ‘Be a pro, be a pro.’ I can show them how to be a pro on the field and off the field.”
Spend five minutes with McLendon and you’ll walk away encouraged. He is Tony Robbins in Tony Siragusa’s body. McLendon has many motivational phrases that he shares. An undrafted free agent out of Troy, he likes to say he was the first pick in the ninth round of the 2009 draft. There were only seven rounds. The Steelers signed him and gave him a $500 signing bonus.
Each morning, he FaceTimes with his family back in Georgia. He has sayings he repeats to his three oldest kids and they give responses.
“We are,” McLendon says.
“Champions,” the kids reply.
“Rule No. 1,” McLendon says.
“Don’t be No. 2,” comes the response.
“Work ethic eliminates,” McLendon says.
“Fear,” the kids reply.
When McLendon re-signed with the Jets in March, his 9-year-old son surprised him by giving him the advice he had given him.
“Some people need us more than we need them,” the boy said.
McLendon said he feels that way with the Jets now. His mission is to win football games, but it is also to shape his younger teammates. When he was a free agent, safety Jamal Adams called him and said, “Big Steve, come back.”
“It was an amazing feeling because that meant somebody still believed in me and believed in my abilities,” McLendon said of being asked to return. “They believed in my ability to help lead and mold young men. That’s what we’re all here for to mold young guys and young boys to young men to one day be fathers and great husbands. To me, it’s not even about football. It’s about molding them to be better as a man and be more as a man.”