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2023 NFL Draft interview: Chattanooga OL McClendon Curtis

WCG’s Lead Draft Analyst speaks with one of the top small-school offensive linemen in the nation.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Samford at Chattanooga

It seems very likely that FCS school Chattanooga will see offensive linemen selected in consecutive NFL Drafts.

One year after Cole Strange went No. 29 overall to the Patriots, the Mocs have another stud lineman in McClendon Curtis, a four-year starter who won the Jacobs Blocking Award as the best blocker in the Southern Conference. Though he comes from a smaller school, he shouldn’t be considered a deep sleeper by any means, seeing as though he earned invitations to both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. He’s firmly on the radar of NFL teams and figures to be drafted come late April.

Curtis spoke with Windy City Gridiron about his pre-draft process, his versatility as both a tackle and a guard, his passion for cooking, and more.

JI: You’ve got starting experience at both tackle and guard. After starting at guard for most of your college career, how did you prepare to kick outside?

MC: The whole process for that was just understanding how to get to my spot; that’s what I kind of struggled with at first. When they threw me out there in the spring, I wasn’t comfortable understanding [how to] get to the spot...I got to work with offensive linemen in the summer before the season at Training HAUS [with] Joe Thomas, A.Q. Shipley, Alex Boone, all those guys. They all gave me tips. Because I was playing more tackle this year on tackle, I leaned more towards Joe, and Joe just gave me some pointers on how to get out on my fit faster and how to generate that power and being in control, especially when you’re going against a bull rush. That’s how he helped me, and just constantly repeating those things [helped me switch to tackle].

JI: What was it like playing alongside Cole Strange, and has seeing him be a first-round pick make you feel confident about your own future at the next level?\

MC: I spent a lot of time with Cole, not only on the field, but off the field. [I was] going to him when I was younger, asking a lot of questions. I would work out with him, just do all the extra work and follow somebody that was a good example. Some people say, “Hey, you may not be the best on Thursdays,” but literally work your tail off regardless, and it’ll get the job done.

JI: I wanna talk about your approach in pass protection. What are some of the things going through your mind right off the snap, and do you generally have an idea of what moves are coming your way and what techniques you’re gonna use?

MC: Mostly, I’m able to go to the film and see what they usually like to go to on third down, but for me, when I get out of my split, I try to stay as square as possible to make sure I keep the distance between me and him and the quarterback. I know he has to get to the launch point: exactly who our quarterback is. We really want to either make them run through or keep that pocket wide. That’s why I like to keep my eyes on the logo — most schools have either their school logo in the middle [of their jersey] or Adidas, something like that. I usually try to give a little punch to get a start, get a little movement, and I reset, or a stronger punch to attach to my opponent.

JI: What was your favorite part about getting involved in events like the Senior Bowl and the Combine?

MC: My thing was mostly the opportunity to showcase [my skills], and the guys [I met], the relationships you build, especially at the Senior Bowl; a lot of us worked out together at Exos, so doing that, meeting them [was great]. Like, me and Paris Johnson are really cool, me and Dawand [Jones] are cool, so getting to know those guys, and guys like Atonio Mafi from UCLA, Juice Scruggs, being around those guys and all those guys in Mobile...everybody’s [talking about] how they play o-line and critiquing each other, working hard, getting that extra work in. That’s been one of the best things. At the Combine, [you get to socialize] here and there. On the workout day, it’s really like a big ol’ hangout, cheering your teammates or people you got to know. You do your workout, do a little working out [on the side], and then call it a day and chill out.

JI: It’s pretty cool to see guys from the same draft class grow a bond together, especially at the same position.

MC: Yeah, for sure. Like, my boy Jake [Andrews] from Troy, he and I were like the small-school guys at the Senior Bowl. I’m from the SoCon, everybody else is from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten ball. I’m SoCon, but we stuck it out, and we definitely helped ourselves.

JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?

MC: I enjoy being around family most definitely, but also, I like to cook. When we have the family over, we’re so happy to be cooking, everybody coming over whenever. Also, I play [video games] a little bit. I play with my brother, sometimes I play with Paris and them, playing the game with them, all of us catching up. One thing Cole [Strange] told me was taking time to decompress from everything, because it can get stressful, it can get busy, so you gotta find time for yourself. I like to do that, and then also travel; I’m a big traveling guy. I just got back from vacation over at Orlando.

JI: How did your side business of your own little pop-up restaurant at Chattanooga come about?

MC: It actually started with one of my teammates [offensive lineman Chris Barnes], he can cook, too, and his parents owned a restaurant, so I was like, “shoot, we both can cook.” We started cooking, and we started getting the name around. From that point on, honestly, it really came on me, because his time had finished at Chattanooga, so I took it to the next level. I always make quick food for college students, because I want it to be cheap and affordable but very good food. People will come and get wings; I would make wings, and I would marinate them the night before. I would make chicken alfredo, [and] people like Rotel [cheese] fries.

JI: I also heard you have a podcast coming out with your brother! What’s that about?

MC: We talk about motivating young men and mistakes that we made that we would like to help them not make. My brother, one of the things we talked about was how he should have taken the opportunity regardless of what the school was, just to play football. That’s one thing a lot of kids today now do; they don’t go where they can play, they go somewhere — and there’s nothing wrong with — that has the best facilities, but you don’t get to play. Go where you’re wanted. We talk about stuff like that. Sometimes it’s just hanging with the boys. I got an episode with the guys from Exos, I got an episode with them I’m gonna post sooner or later, talking about playing college football across the country — they all come from different parts in the USA, so I feel that would be a good conversation. That’s what our podcast is: motivation, giving you a little bit of advice, and we talk a little bit of ball.

JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?

MC: I would say, for me, I’m the guy that [can be held] responsible, do what I’m supposed to do, but also a guy who doesn’t get complacent. I want to get better; I want to find ways to help the team in any way possible, and a guy that’s going to be relentless. You don’t have to worry about me taking plays off or anything like that.

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