No rush to sign Stafford’s McClelland

As most of America’s top high school football players make written commitments with colleges on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, all-state running back Thomas McClelland’s thoughts still will be on finding the right school that wants him.

McClelland, who led Stafford High School to unprecedented heights last fall, doesn’t have the “problem” of sifting through a mountain of offers. Despite rushing for an area-record 2,548 yards, shining in the Indians’ defensive backfield and winning the state offensive player of the year honor from Virginia’s coaches, McClelland’s best scholarship offer so far is from Division II Virginia Union.

“I get frustrated at times, with everyone around me having a place to go,” McClelland said Sunday after he and his father, Mark, returned to Stafford from a recruiting visit to Virginia Military Institute. “But it’s life. I’ve got to live with it until something does pop up.”

At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds and without blazing speed, McClelland’s success on the field hasn’t translated into scholarship offers. He returned from Lexington without an offer, though he was told he was high on the Keydets’ list. If VMI officially extends a scholarship bid, that would be McClelland’s first in Division I-AA.

McClelland, his family and Stafford coach Roger Pierce argue that he proved in his senior season what he could do. For the Division 5 state finalists, he rushed for 27 touchdowns and scored three more on returns. He was a valuable runner, blocker, defender and snapper. Playing on a bruised left leg in the state final against undefeated Phoebus, he carried 32 times for 154 yards.

“He has a list of awards that would choke a dinosaur,” said his mother, Melissa. “He goes to schools and they just ask him to run straight ahead. I would like to see a track star run on the football field with four players hanging on him.”

Now, McClelland is juggling his academic schedule with wrestling (he’s undefeated in the 171-pound weight class) and visits to schools no one ever sees on television or in bowl games.

Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) and Concord (W.Va.) have offered McClelland a partial scholarship. Frostburg State (Md.), Virginia-Wise and Shepherd (W.Va.) also have expressed interest. His first choice was Division I-AA James Madison, but the Dukes told him they had no scholarships left. At that same level, Richmond is still waiting to hear back from two out-of-state running backs before talking to McClelland again.

“I’m pretty down with how things work now,” McClelland said. “I can pretty much see through the coaches to see if they really are interested or not. Usually I can tell.”

McClelland doesn’t care whether he plays running back or free safety in college; he just wants to find a school that feels like the right fit. His trip to VMI merely threw another variable into a list of schools that all seem to have at least one liability.

VMI “was something new and very different,” McClelland said. “I really was not going to find out what it was like until I went there.

“I saw a different picture than what I’d heard about — the atmosphere, everybody’s attitude. I’m not saying it’s for me, but going to VMI would definitely get you a good education.”

According to Pierce, McClelland is a “diamond in the rough.” The Stafford senior may be hurt by the fact that this was his only year in the limelight. He rushed for more yards in an average game in his final year than he did for his entire junior season.

On the Roanoke Times’ list of the top 100 recruits in the state, McClelland was ranked 54th. Gar-Field running back Rasheed McClaude, ranked 59th, is set to sign with Division I-A Kent State.

Melissa McClelland said that her son has the best kind of personality to handle the confusing process of finding a football scholarship. “He does things above and beyond,” she said. “He has that drive.”

The first time McClelland contacted VMI, the staff told him he needed to improve his Scholastic Aptitude Test score. He accomplished that feat, but VMI officials told him over the weekend that their most pressing need is at linebacker.

So McClelland continues to wait. But after leading Stafford to its first three playoff victories in more than 50 years of existence, maybe another surprise is out there for him.

“I don’t want to rush things or make a bad decision,” McClelland said. “When you’re talking about the next four years of your life, you don’t want to put yourself in a position you regret.”

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