By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
For Salisbury University student-athletes, the athlete portion of their college lives is like a job of its own. With practices, off-season training and games, it takes up much of time and energy.
Salisbury football senior defensive end Devon ‘Bubba’ McClain is a veteran football player that embraces this student-athlete title, developing as a leader on the gridiron over in Sea Gull Stadium.
“The maturity impresses me more than anything. Honestly he’s like an extended coach. There’s moments where I’m having a team meeting and there’s noise in the room. I might say something and there’s still noise in the room. As soon as Bubba says something, [they quiet down],” SU head football coach Sherman Wood said.
Wood talks of McClain’s leadership on and off-the-field. The Annapolis, Md. – native has had an immense impact on the team and a defensive unit that is currently giving up only 13.7 points-per-game.
While fans cheer on the defensive end’s quick rush off the edge for a sack, they do not see his weekly schedule that leads onto the field each week.
Other than his class schedule and football itinerary, McClain spends his time up in Dover, Del., traveling up U.S. Route 13 three or four times per week. The SU football defensive ambassador is training for a different leadership role, this one in the United States Navy.
After high school, McClain was not supposed to end up at Salisbury. He initially started playing college football at Bethany College (W.V.). In his freshman year, facing too many concussion scares, the defensive lineman decided to end his playing career, hearing a call to defend freedoms.
His track into the Navy was spurred on by his family’s history of service to the nation with both his grandfather and father serving in the military. McClain points to his grandfather, a Naval ship serviceman, as an inspiration to his career path today.
“I want to be in a better spot than he is right now. He gained a lot from it, so I feel like I can gain a lot from it too,” McClain said.
His grandfather turned his military skills into a career as a contractor. The Salisbury football player hopes to create career out of serving his country in the future.
After initially considering the Air Force, he ended up training with the Navy, training in boot camp and at the Pentagon alongside other stops. McClain found another opportunity in the military’s STA-21 program, allowing him to return to get a college degree while being listed as a reserve within Naval officer training.
Upon returning to Bethany, he decided that it was not the right fit. Close to a training location was Salisbury University, where the defensive end continued his football career in the end.
“Originally I came to school as an education major. I wanted to teach. I wanted to be a high school gym teacher. Over time my aspirations of what I wanted to do changed,” McClain said.
Today he seeks a double major in Political Science and International Relations, two degrees that fit well for someone looking towards helping others over the horizon.
“I can use my platform as a naval officer to help others. I’ve seen good leadership and bad leadership. I want to use the good leadership to encourage people to join the service and continue the great tradition that the service has,” McClain said.
While his training is like an extra full-time job to McClain, he receives large support from his head coach. Despite occasionally missing a lift or a practice, the Sea Gull always makes up the time and keeps up with the team.
“I think it’s just important to support all those causes within life, life skills, things that are going to last a long, long time. This whole football thing is only a couple of years,” Wood said.
McClain is not the first Salisbury football player to take on roles across campus and later on in the military. Wood says that it is a staple that helps in his recruiting and defines who a Salisbury football player really is, serving the greater community and becoming a well-rounded individual.
However, football has offered McClain with a test of his military leadership skills in real time. Only having leadership roles previously in high school and in military training, he learns on the field with the Salisbury football team.
This has developed his voice and leadership stances in numerous situations. McClain even changes his strategies depending on the group around him.
“There are different types of methods and styles that I use. When it comes to big groups, I’m more authoritative to be more of that authority figure, yelling ‘hey, x, y and z have to get done, because if x, y and z don’t get done, [x will happen],” McClain said.
In a smaller environment, McClain is the leader of the defensive line, providing the chemistry at the top for the front seven on defense.
“I’m more of a leader in cohesion. I don’t do any yelling. I just talk to them. They understand where I come from. I get off my tone sternly. They understand what I’m trying to get across,” McClain said.
Through these experiences, the defensive end has gained the respect of those around him on the team. Wood says that helps the overall team in the missions throughout the season. With a ‘coach’ on the field, players have a peer that they can look to for guidance in certain situations.
With football providing a learning environment, McClain has done just that on the field, learned. He admits that his leadership skills were never perfect upon coming to play for Wood, but they have only improved for his career as a naval officer down the line.
“Before coming here, I didn’t really understand the whole listening aspect. Here I’ve become a better listener,” McClain said.
“Communication from the point that I have to [communicate with those around me,] so I can let them know what’s going on. So if I’m missing something, they still know what’s going on, and if I’m not around, they still know what’s going on.”
While having multiple leadership trainings aids McClain in the long run, it can have its short-term issues such as time management.
“It’s hard to place football ahead when you have other obligations. My grades could be better, but when I’m done football, hopefully those will come back up. There’s no true difficulty, but it’s definitely time management,” McClain said.
Time management is one thing that student-athletes get to train in daily. It is something that Salisbury University coaches across each sport train their players in because, at the end of the day, that is a real-life application the Division III students are ready for come their graduation.
While still looking to complete school, McClain will hit the pause button briefly for service in Djibouti coming up soon, where he will take his next step in a life that he hopes to transform into a public office position down the line.