Ozark native and former Troy football standout Steve McLendon has leaned on his Christian faith – and what he calls a “Focus-Driven-Life code” – during a 12-year NFL career.
“What I believe in is much bigger than me,” McLendon said during a phone interview with the Dothan Eagle on Tuesday. “I do realize that I am not here by a mistake; everything has been ordained.
“If you look at it in the Bible it tells you about certain people and the things they had to go through, but it was showing how consistent they were.”
McLendon has strived to be a steady performer on the pro football level since the defensive tackle graduated Troy in 2009. He spent his first six seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by four full seasons as a starter with the New York Jets before being traded six games into this season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The veteran now gets a chance to play in the Super Bowl for the second time in his career when the Bucs take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7 in Tampa. McLendon played in Super Bowl XLV in 2011 with the Steelers in what would be a 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers, ironically the team Tampa Bay defeated 31-26 on Sunday in the NFC championship game.
“I really didn’t understand it as much as a young guy, because I was like, ‘Man, I can just keeping working and go again,’” McLendon said.
As the years past, McLendon came to appreciate the difficulty of having another opportunity at a Super Bowl ring.
“Every day that I get up, I always train with the Super Bowl in mind,” McLendon said. “That’s been my consistent focus for the past 10 years, I worked harder and harder each year. I was motivated; I was driven.”
And he followed the Focus-Driven-Life code – words which are displayed in his Team MVP gym located in Flowery Branch, Ga.
“The Focus-Driven-Life code is something I’ve been living by my whole football career in the NFL,” McLendon said. “It’s something I came up with and put together.
“The word focus in the acronym form tells us ‘Follow one course until successful.’ The ultimate goal that I want to accomplish in this business is a Super Bowl. I want to win a Super Bowl.
“I looked at the word driven. Driven in the acronym form says, ‘Dreams remain in vision every day and night.’
“That brings me back to that first point. If you focus on your driven, your driven will become your life. I believe in my focus, I believe in my drive and now I’m absolutely getting to see it in my life.”
Being traded from the Jets to the Bucs in mid-October opened the doors for McLendon to get another shot at a Super Bowl this year.
While the Jets were winless through their first six games, Tampa Bay was on the upswing with new quarterback Tom Brady.
“I said, ‘One thing I do know about Tom is he always has a chance,’” McLendon said. “He’s just that type of guy. I didn’t know what he did day to day before I got here, but just playing him on Sundays, I have seen him come out ready to play always. When I heard I was getting traded here, I thought I most definitely have an opportunity.”
That didn’t mean leaving the Jets was easy. Though he found out on a Saturday night he was being traded before the Jets were to play Miami the next day, McLendon decided to play one final game with New York before taking off for Tampa.
“It’s more to me about the morals,” McLendon said. “When I make a commitment, the commitment is always to finish what you start. No matter what, I was going to finish what I started.
“I also told the guys, ‘Man, this might be our last ride together, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got for y’all.’ I wanted to make sure I finished it the right way, because those are my brothers.
“Everybody kept telling me that other people knowing they were going to get traded wouldn’t have went out on that field and risked the chance of getting hurt. But I knew the Lord had me and had my back. He knew what was best for me. I went out that day and played extremely hard.
“I’m just so fortunate and blessed that someone noticed me along the way to give me the opportunity to come to Tampa and to be able to play in my second Super Bowl.”
McLendon definitely believes the team is up to the challenge, and believes playing on their home turf will be an advantage. This will mark the first time a Super Bowl has been held in the stadium of one of the participants.
“For me, it gives my children and family an opportunity to see me play in the home stadium,” McLendon said. “It’s just a completely different feeling.
“We’re just going to stay focused on the task at hand. We’re going to prepare, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play physical and most important we’re going to play smart for 60 minutes. Whatever happens in the end happens.”
No matter the outcome, McLendon is thankful for the opportunity.
“I’m super thankful for my parents, my wife and kids and everybody who has supported me along this journey,” he said. “This has been a most amazing journey of my life to be able to continue to play at a high level and with health.”
After his playing days are over, McLendon will continue to work with others through his gym.
“We’re not just an average gym,” McLendon said. “We want people to come in so we can help change lives.
“How do we change lives? We change lives by helping them stay focused, helping them to stay driven and helping them to understand they have one life and they need to live it to the fullest.”
A code McLendon lives by.
Follow Jon Johnson on Twitter @eaglesportsed