By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 18, 2005
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There were times last year when West Virginia University linebacker Kevin “Boo” McLee felt like he was playing with one arm tied behind his back.
||Junior linebacker Boo McLee has a good grasp of West Virginia's defense and that could pose big problems for opposing offenses.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks
McLee admits that it was sometimes difficult for him to get a handle on all of the responsibilities required of him playing the strongside linebacker position. Consequently, you saw a Boo McLee tentative and not sure what he was doing. When McLee was supposed to be aggressive and attack the ball carrier he was hesitant and a step slow.
And when he was supposed to be patient and read his keys, he was often caught overrunning plays and biting on fakes about as often as his coach Jeff Casteel chomps on cigars.
“I was thinking too much instead of just playing,” McLee said.
One of the running jokes circulating around the Milan Puskar Center last year was to try and figure out which defense McLee was playing: West Virginia’s or Uniontown High School’s – where Boo played four years ago.
So far this fall McLee has made it a point to play strictly West Virginia’s defense and the man happiest about that is Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez.
“Boo McLee is playing as well as he’s ever played in his career,” was Rodriguez’ unsolicited compliment Wednesday morning. “In fact, Boo has played as well right now in camp as any linebacker we’ve had here in a long time and that’s including Grant Wiley. That’s saying a lot because Grant was special.”
Wiley was special to the point of being just West Virginia’s ninth consensus All-American. Those involved with the West Virginia program have always known that McLee possessed the physical skills to be a dominant linebacker -- his size (6 feet 1 inches and 250 pounds) and athletic ability are apparent.
But the issue has always been for McLee to get into the right spots to make plays and not leave gaps uncovered. Last spring Casteel decided to move him to the weakside linebacker spot and while he still has many responsibilities, his primary one is to attack and make plays. McLee says he can’t wait to just let it rip and start blowing people up this fall.
“Just go out there and run around and make plays,” said the junior. “Coach Casteel has been telling me since last year to go out there and just play instinctively and make plays.
“I go as hard as I can now. I can run to the ball faster instead of worrying about what I’ve got to do,” he said.
McLee, who says he got his nickname ‘Boo’ from his grandmother because wanted to play peak-a-boo all of the time when he was little, admits he’s become a more in-tuned player this fall and has spent extra time in the video-tape room watching linebacker and defensive line cut-ups.
“I’m more focused on the task at hand. I’m trying to make our team and defense better and in the process I’m making myself better also,” McLee said. “It’s just repetition. Once I started doing more reps I was getting better and better.”
Boo says the light for him really came on last spring and that gave him the added motivation to work hard this summer and get himself into the best shape of his life. He says he’s added about 10 pounds of muscle and at the same time he has also managed to trim down his forty time.
“I was here all summer, took classes and worked out. I feel I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in my life,” he said.
McLee admits that there are still times when he’s not sure what to do. Now, instead of going the wrong way or slowing down to make sure he’s where he’s supposed to be, he isn’t afraid to speak up and ask either veterans Jay Henry or Jeff Noechel what to do.
“Jay Henry has been helping me out a lot and when there is something I’m not sure about I ask him on the field and he tells me. Same thing with Jeff Noechel: he’s a physical guy and a tough, hard working guy. I like being on the field with them,” McLee said.
All eyes have been trained on West Virginia’s trio of linebackers -- some critics believe the linebacker position is the spot that will ultimately determine how good WVU’s defense will be this year. McLee is aware of the talk.
“It motivates me a lot because everyone is saying that the weakest link on our defense is the linebackers,” McLee said. “We’re not even close … we’ll show them on September 4.
“We’re solid enough to win games. I’m just trying to go out and have the best season that I can,” he said.
Perhaps even more pressure comes from having to uphold the McLee family name. Boo is the latest in a long line of successful McLees to play college football. His uncles Reggie and Billy played at WVU and his dad Kevin played at Georgia. Another Boo McLee relative is the late Ernie Davis, who won a Heisman Trophy at Syracuse.
“I have a lot of pressure from people from Uniontown. People knew who I was right away because my uncles played here and I’ve had an uncle at Michigan State and at Syracuse,” McLee said.
“Everyone is always calling me but it’s something I’ve got to get over. I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do and not worry about anyone else.”
McLee’s worries also no longer include knowing West Virginia’s defense. And if you are an opposing offensive coordinator, that should be a major cause for concern.