The second line of former N.C. State legend T.A. McLendon's(above) Wikipedia page says it well: "Alongside Ken Hall and Brett Law, McLendon is one of the most productive high school football players of all-time." High words of praise to say the least--for those of you who don't know about high school football legend Ken Hall--allow me to fill you in.
Ken Hall, aka, "The Sugar Land Express" set the standard for high school football excellence.The man was a god amongst mortals on the gridiron. Nicknamed "The Sugar Land Express"(pictured above), the Sugar Land, Texas native destroyed virtually every high school football rushing record imaginable--setting 17 records--several of which still stand today. In 1953, Hall rushed for a disgusting 4,045 yards in ONE season! He played in a single-wing offense(running style), but it doesn't matter if you run the ball the entire game for a whole season--those are unfathomable numbers. To this day, Hall is still the only Texas running back to rush for over 4,000 yards in one season. 55 years later, "The Sugar Land Express" still owns quite a few Texas state football records--including--career scoring(899 points), single-season scoring(395 yards), rushing yards per game(337.1 ypg.), points per game(32.9 ppg.), and career rushing(11,232 yards).
Sure, Ken Hall and Brett Law were insanely good, but T.A. McLendon was so good he managed to shatter some of their records. Pretty crazy, especially when you consider he started out his high school football career as a defensive end. The rest, as they say, is history.
T.A. smiles in his high school uniform--the Albemarle High School Bulldogs.
An Albemarle, North Carolina native, Tristan Akeen McLendon(pictured above) blazed a legendary path along the high school football fields in the Tarheel state for the Albemarle Bulldogs. He became the only player in high school football history to score over 1,000 points. He owns the national record for the most points in a career(1,076 pts.), most touchdowns in a career(178), and rushing touchdowns(170). He also ranks third nationally for points in a season(428 pts.). Did I mention that he also managed to rack up over 9,000 rushing yards in high school?! Filthy.
Former N.C. State running back T.A. McLendon leaves a Miami defender in his wake in the open field.
Jason Hickman of Maxpreps.com said it best in an article when he wrote, "A legend in North Carolina, nobody in high school football history put the ball in the end zone with more regularity than Albemarle High's T.A. McClendon." His numbers during the 2001 season were simply outlandish--he rushed for 3,070 yards and 68 touchdowns.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Albemarle's offense put up dizzying numbers during McLendon's tenure there as well. The Bulldogs currently own the national record for most points in one season(903 points)--(16 games).
McLendon ended his career at Albemarle High School in fitting fashion--bruising and pummeling his way for 289 yards and a state-record seven touchdowns in leading Albemarle to the Class 1A state championship.
Beautiful painting of T.A. McLendon by Jonathan D. Gordon
His stardom on the gridiron continued when he traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to suit up for the N.C. State Wolfpack alongside the surgically accurate signal-caller that is Philip Rivers.
The Wolfpack had a surprisingly successful season in 2002--much of it was due to the devastatingly accurate arm of quarterback Philip Rivers and the thunderous thighs of tailback, T.A. McLendon. While Rivers disected defenses through the air, McLendon used his lethal combination of power and speed to punish defenses at will.
The punishing tailback pounded and pummeled his way to the tune of 1,101 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground in 2002. His 108 points scored and 18 touchdowns were both single-season records at N.C. State. He also added 42 catches for 354 receiving yards to his dazzling freshman resume. That resume becomes even more impressive considering he was hampered by two shoulder separations and a right wrist fracture! So it shouldn't be surprising to anyone he garnered 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season.
The Wolfpack finished their 2002-2003 campaign with a 28-6 throttling of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Gator Bowl--thanks once again to quarterback Philip Rivers and his insanely accurate throws. McLendon was injured in the game and had to leave early.
McLendon celebrates a touchdown during N.C. State's 56-26 throttling of the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2003 Mazda Tangerine Bowl
Kansas decided to sit back on their heels and play a zone defense against one of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football history--big mistake. All Rivers did was diabolically dissect their defense to the tune of a 56-26 massacre on the scoreboard, setting every Mazda Tangerine Bowl passing record imaginable in the process. He set the N.C. State and Tangerine Bowl records for completions(37), completion percentage(82.2), passing yards(475), touchdown passes(five), and total offense(495 yards). The Florida Citrus Bowl turf is still on fire from that one several years later. If you want to see the highlights of his 4th quarter from that game on YouTube just go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrgF2Ku-siw&feature=related
In 2004, McLendon was hampered by hamstring injuries, but was still able to lead the team in rushing for the third straight season--rushing for 770 yards on just 167 carries(4.6 ypc.), and six touchdowns.
He entered the NFL Draft as a junior in 2004, but went undrafted. He tried out for several NFL teams, but didn't get picked up.
In the end, it was likely his willingness to play through pain and injuries that did him in, but you have to respect a player who went out there and sacrificed so much individually just so the fans could watch him play. His love of the game and his tremendous amount of heart--nobody can ever take that away from the Albermarle High School product.
His name will always be legendary--regardless of his inability to make it to the NFL. Injuries aside, he still became one of the legends in North Carolina high school football history and one of the greats in N.C. State football history as well. Nobody will be able to take that away from him either.
I recently caught up with the football legend via Facebook--and he was gracious enough to answer my questions. Many thanks to him for doing the interview! I wish him the best in the future!
Q: First thing is first, you played with one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all-time in Philip Rivers(pictured below). What was it like playing alongside such a talented signal-caller and what was the most amazing play you remember from Philip Rivers during your college days?
A: Well even then I knew he was going be to a great quarterback, but to have played beside him was an honor and a privilege. Playing beside him was the easy thing. He made the game easier for me. If I knew the play or not, before we would go up to the line of scrimmage, he always told me which way to go or what to do. I guess he thought I was still learning on the fly. A lot of the time I knew the play, he just wanted to make sure I did it right anyway. Phillip aka "Cheese" just had away of taking over the offense and making it his own. When he stepped into the huddle you listened, even when he was being funny, but you listened. I never felt out of a game when we were down because I knew at any time he could do something to get us back in the game. He put the team on his back any time he had to, and he stepped up to the challenge time and time again. The drive everyone sees now is what I saw the day we met. I knew then that we were a match made in heaven and I’m blessed to have been his sidekick.
Q: Speaking of Philip Rivers--you got to watch one of the classic quarterback battles in ACC football history--Virginia's QB Matt Schaub(pictured below) vs. N.C. State QB Philip Rivers--what was it like to watch two quarterbacks like that duel it out?
A: Well being on the field with one is one thing, but to watch them from the best seat in the house is another. It was like we knew we had to score points anytime we played (Matt Schaub) because he was just as good or better than Cheese(Philip Rivers). Every time we stepped on the field, as usual, we tried to score. But when we played them we knew we had to because it could get ugly at any time if someone got too far ahead. But watching them duel was like watching two gladiators with reputations to protect, while still living up to the killer in the ring they say you are. It was an honor to have played on the same field because he (Schaub) was one of the best.
Q: You scorched a rather legendary trail along the gridiron in the state of North Carolina--becoming one of the best players ever to come out of the Tarheel state. What was your favorite memory from your high school days, suiting up for Albermarle High School?
A: I scored a lot of touchdowns and I won a lot of games. But my favorite memory was pouring the Gatorade on Coach Gaster’s head when we knew it was over(the state championship). He was and still is the best coach I’ve ever been around and played for. He loved his players just like he loved his kids. Being one of his many kids on the field were my favorite times because I can never forget those memories. He was part of a lot them and made of them possible for me. I owe my success as a football player to my high school coach. Suiting up every Friday playing for the best Coach and team,"Albemarle Bulldogs", my favorite memory is the Fridays. R.I.P. Coach G.
Q: Your freshman year was your best year at N.C. State--you earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2002, despite being plagued by two separated shoulders and a right wrist fracture. How in the world were you able to play at such a high level, considering the amount of pain you must have been playing through?
A: Some were more excruciating than others, but it was three things that kept me going: my teammates, the fans, and the adrenaline that was pumping in my veins. I played through a lot of injuries, but I only did it for those three reasons. My teammates are counting on me just like I count on them, it's a team. I could be a cheerleader on the sideline or I can play and beat the enemy with you. Since I can walk and run I'm going to go to battle with you. I could worry about the injuries and repercussions later. The fans came to watch their team play and I play on the team so why not give them their money’s worth. I love the game just like the fans, so I know what I want to see when I see a game. And so I played that way. Adrenaline enough said.
Q: Who was your favorite college football player growing up and why?
A: I didn't have a favorite college player. I just watched NFL and that’s it. I didn't care about college until the North Carolina Tarheels came on during basketball season. But if I had to chose one its Barry Sanders. He's the greatest man to ever run a football hands down, I love Emmitt Smith. Barry to me is just the greatest period, enough said.
Q: What was your favorite game as a player at N.C. State and why?
A: My favorite game was Virginia my sophomore year(2003). I’d just had my two surgeries on my knee, and to have the game I had that day was by far my favorite. I had over 100 yards rushing(112) and over 100 yards receiving(104), so individually having that type of game under those circumstances, again, by far is my favorite. Not to mention we were the only team playing that night, and to end up having the game-winning touchdown wasn't bad either.
Q: You got to play with another legendary college football player in safety Andre Maddox(pictured below), one of the best safeties in college football history. What was it like to line up against such a feared defender in practice?
A: Well I knew just like the rest of the offense that there were no breaks on the field when he was out there. He's 1000 mph every play, so you always had to keep your eyes locked on him or you could pay the price. He could line up anywhere on the field, but if didn't keep your eyes on him well....you knew the rest. But practicing against him only made me and the team better, so it was great shedding blood, sweat, and tears with him.
Q: Throughout all of your playing days in football--who hit you the hardest and explain in detail.
A: It was Maryland. I think the hit is on YouTube(here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GQAxI9q5dI), but it was by far the best lick I've taken.
Q: Let's say you win the lottery this week and you win a million dollars. What do you do with the money and why?
A: I'd buy some land in the country, build a house on it, and put the rest in the bank. I like my privacy so the money would be used for emergency purposes only. I'm a simple man so I would live a simple life. I'd watch my kids grow and spend every moment with them that they're not in school. Now that’s what I call living life.
Q: What song track is playing the most often in your car currently?
A: There goes my baby by Usher
Q: If you could have played any other sport at a professional level besides football, which one would you choose and why?
A: Baseball. It’s not easy to hit and catch the ball, but the concept is fairly easy. Hit the ball and catch it. Not only that, they get paid a lot more and it is guaranteed. So of course getting paid is better, but the passion football players play with doesn’t match any other sport. So baseball, only for the money.
Q: What made you choose N.C. State when you decided to sign with the Wolfpack in 2002?
T.A. says he wanted to stay close to home and play alongside QB Philip Rivers
A: Well I'm a hometown boy and I wanted to keep it that way. My family and friends didn't have to travel far to come to games, and not to mention watch a great quarterback. If you don’t want to play with a proven quarterback you are just playing football for the wrong reasons. I wanted to win and contend for a national title, and with the players we had, there wasn't any doubt in my mind that we couldn't. It was good program so why not playing with the best of everything, and still so close to home.
Q: Give me a list of your favorite college football players of all-time--let's go with the top 3.
Q: Who is your favorite actor and why?
A: I don’t have one I just like good movies.
Q: Do you miss football and what are the current life plans for T.A. McLendon(below)?
A: I love football to death. I would play for free--so of course I miss it. TIME WILL TELL. And for everyone reading this--thanks I enjoyed your love and I did it for you(the fans). So again thanks and I hope you enjoyed a few of my thoughts. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be stranger. I would love to hear from you.