Maclin goes pro
Mizzou star gives an emotional goodbye
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- On Friday morning during a press conference at the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex, sophomore Jeremy Maclin announces that he will enter the 2009 NFL draft.
- Seniors Chase Coffman, Steve Redmond, Jeff Wolfert and Tommy Saunders sit in the audience of the Onofrio Room and listen to Maclin’s announcement.
- After following Maclin into the press conference, Coach Gary Pinkel took a seat in the front of the room.
- While answering a question about the emotions involved in making a decision to leave MU and go pro, Maclin stops speaking and lowers his head.
- Coach Pinkel approaches the podium and consoles Maclin before the two-time, first-team All-American leaves the press conference.
Gathered in the Onofrio room of the MU athletic training center Friday morning, the crowd of players, family and media anxiously checked the time. At 11:05 a.m., Mizzou football standout Jeremy Maclin entered with coach Gary Pinkel, some of his teammates and his surrogate parents, Cindy and Jeff Parres, to answer the question on everyone’s mind: Would Maclin leave Mizzou early to join the NFL?
After getting through opening remarks, the redshirt sophomore got to it.
"This decision hasn't been easy for me," Maclin said, choking up. "I've seen a lot and battled through a lot with these guys on the team, but I don't regret it. It's been the best experience of my life so far. So I'm saying it right now: I'm entering the 2009 NFL Draft."
It was hardly an easy decision for the St. Louis native, who had said he would leave only if he was projected to be a first-round pick. Despite projections that Maclin would go in the top 10 overall, he said his decision wasn't finalized until just 10 minutes before the news conference. He had sat down with the Parreses and the coaching staff and gleaned opinions carefully after Mizzou's season ended with an Alamo Bowl victory.
"My whole approach is: If he's my son, what am I going to tell him?" Pinkel said. "I simply said … ‘You've got to strongly consider going.’ That's the right thing for him, which is ultimately the right thing for our football team and the program."
Weighing on Maclin's mind were the possibility of losing opportunities if he suffered a serious injury and considerations about the individual and team goals yet to be accomplished. After all, his success as a Tiger was the culmination of a childhood dream.
Star in the making
Maclin loved and excelled at football as a child, so Cindy and Jeff Parres, who raised him, encouraged him to play when he was 9. Jeff coached him in the youth league, and Cindy was there cheering on the sideline. Having experienced a rough home life earlier, Maclin has always cherished the Parreses and has continued to wear No. 9 in their honor.
"We always tried our best to support him when he was playing," Cindy says, reminiscing about his early football days. "We knew he was special from the beginning. Of course, as a mother you always feel that about your child, but … other people started to see it, too."
Playing at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, Maclin received several offers from big-name football programs to play on scholarship. He liked the relationship he’d formed with Mizzou assistant coach Cornell Ford and decided to stay in Missouri.
"I knew he would have a huge impact on our program," Ford says. "I talked to guys in the St. Louis area, and they said, 'We thought he was good, but, man, we didn't have any idea he was this good.' Certainly he's a special kid and a special athlete."
When Maclin reached Mizzou in summer 2006, he tore his ACL in a seven-on-seven drill in July. It was a major setback, but Maclin used it to continue to grow and improve. Working with the training and strength and conditioning staffs, he underwent surgery and completed rehab.
"I will always say I had the privilege of knowing Jeremy Maclin because it was truly a privilege," says Mizzou play-by-play man Mike Kelly. "Not only was he this unbelievable phenom at Mizzou, he was also one of the most likable individuals you'd ever have the chance to spend time with. The way he conducted himself … He's the benchmark for Mizzou receivers now."
Through proper conditioning and training, Maclin was able to get back on the field in 2007 with the impact he was expected to make as a true freshman.
"After the Illinois game, the first game he played, coming off a serious injury in his hometown, on national TV, he goes out and does what he does, and we remember the performance," Pinkel says. "Driving back with my wife on the bus after the game, I said, 'We've got a superstar here.'"
Mizzou color analyst John Kadlec, a longtime broadcaster and former assistant coach of the football program, says Maclin hasn’t let stardom go to his head.
"You know what impresses me about him?" Kadlec asked. "He's always got a smile on his face. Always. That's what endeared him to his teammates. This guy's a two-time All-American. He could be aloof or a primma donna as some people are — because not many are two-time All-Americans when they're sophomores. It's a hell of a combination, really. You can't beat an attitude like that with his great ability."
Leaving the Mizzou nest
Those bonds with coaches and teammates are, Maclin said, what made it hardest to enter the NFL Draft.
"I'm leaving a family. This is my family. This is where I belong. All those guys were like father figures to me. They didn't teach me just how to be a football player; they taught me how to be a man. You know, the relationship you build with these players, older guys teaching me things, just little stuff like that…" Maclin said at the press conference, trailing off and burying his head in his hands. "That's the difference between going and staying."
As Pinkel took the podium, he tried his best to explain what he tries to get all his players to think about when deciding whether to go pro. The numbers last year — 40 rushes for 293 yards and two touchdowns; 102 catches for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns; a 24.0-yard average and a touchdown on kick returns; and an 11.7-yard average and a touchdown on punt returns — certainly say he's more than capable of taking that final step. However, there's more to it than that.
"Deep down, you have to say, 'Am I ready to do this? Do I really want to do this?' No one can tell you, even though you're going to be a first-round pick, that you're ready inside," Pinkel says. "He asked me if I thought he was ready, and I said, 'Yeah, I do think you're ready.' Maybe that's being too honest, but it's the truth."
Fans, players and coaches can list attributes and skills Maclin has in abundance: speed, explosiveness, good hands, awareness, acceleration. However, the one most people come back to is his good heart. It's fitting that Maclin listened to his own to make his decision final.
"There are pros and cons to both [staying and leaving]," he says. "I sat down and thought about it, but when it came down to it, I talked upstairs with the coaches, and they said, ‘You have to follow your heart.’ As much as I love these guys and I love my team, I feel that I'm ready for the next level, and that's what my heart told me to do.
"I represent Missouri; I always will. I'll always be a Tiger regardless of how my life goes or how my career goes."