Signal Mountain's Tim McClendon, center, smiles as players Cole Green, left, and Caden Thomas crowd in for a hug as seniors are recognized before the game against Chattanooga Christian Thursday at Signal Mountain High School. The TSSAA ruled McClendon ineligible to play, and players surrounded him on the field to show their support for him.Photo by Angela Lewis.
Aspiring college football players, many along with their families, will celebrate National Signing Day with life-changing signature parties today.
Of the more than three dozen players in the Chattanooga area expected to sign with college programs, none will be going farther or will have come further than Tim McClendon, the Signal Mountain Middle High School linebacker and running back whose transfer from Lake-view-Fort Oglethorpe High School raised eligibility questions last year.
Those questions eventually cost the Eagles seven victories, a district championship and a likely run deep into the state playoffs.
"I'm sorry that my team had to go through what it went through and for the way things worked out," the 6-foot-2, 240-pound McClendon said Tuesday night. "The whole situation has made me a better person, and I think I'm a stronger person. I have learned to overcome setbacks."
McClendon, who said he transferred to Signal Mountain for better educational opportunities, will set aside his regrets to sign scholarship papers with College of Sequoias in Visalia, Calif.
College of Sequoias is a two-year school, but it is another step in a long process for McClendon, who is well on his way to a diploma while continuing to overcome learning disabilities.
"I definitely made the right choice going to Signal Mountain," he said. "The reason is that I'm getting a lot of help I wouldn't have gotten elsewhere. They're keeping me on track. I'm getting a lot of support."
Signal Mountain football coach Bill Price said the school and team are proud of what McClendon has accomplished.
"He'll have a chance to develop into a four-year player. This gives him an opportunity to work on his grades and improve his skills so he can go play [NCAA] Division I. He still has a tough time ahead of him and he needs to improve his study habits, but he's graduating and moving on to the next level."
McClendon, who talked with recruiters from University of the Cumberlands, Eastern Kentucky and others, figured out quickly that academic shortcomings would keep him from playing football at most four-year schools.
He liked what College of the Sequoias had to offer and felt even better after his mother did some further investigation.
"I considered some other [junior colleges] but I fell in love with this college because of what they have going, plus the academics and the football," McClendon said. "When I get there, I'll take a test to see where my [academic] skill level is so I don't get over my head in class, and they have tutors."
He said his priorities haven't changed from the time he made a decision last spring to transfer to Signal Mountain.
"I want to get out there, do my best and stay focused," he said. "I'm talking focused academically. My grades have to be first and football second. There will be a lot of studying and tutoring going on."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...