TAMPA — As much as Terrell McClain was looking forward to playing his final football game at Raymond James Stadium, the bigger thrill might have come a day earlier.
That's when his mother, Lynn, made a surprise visit to practice to let USF's senior defensive tackle know she would be there for the game.
McClain's mother is stationed in Washington with the Navy, but she made the trip to Tampa with McClain's father and brother Jerome, something McClain wasn't sure would happen.
"I didn't think she was coming down at all. It was a real blessing for her to come down here," said McClain, preparing for his final college game against Clemson on Friday in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. "My whole family was there, and I was very happy they could all be there for my last college game."
Lynn hasn't been able to see McClain play many times, but he hopes he can change that by getting picked in the NFL draft in April and earning a spot on an NFL roster, allowing her to retire and see more of him.
"I have a goal to make it at the next level, to help my mom out," he said. "I've told her, 'I'm doing this for you,' and when I get to the NFL, I want her to come to my games."
McClain has put himself in strong position to make that goal happen, earning first-team All-Big East honors with a strong mix of run-stopping and interior pass-rushing. Bulls coach Skip Holtz has high expectations for him after seeing one of his defensive tackles at East Carolina, Linval Joseph, go to the Giants in the second round last spring.
"When you look at him physically, I think probably measurable-wise he's one of our best draft candidates," Holtz said. "When you look at his height, weight, speed, athleticism, the level of play he's playing at, I think he's doing a great job. I think Terrell has such great athleticism up front, with what he's able to do moving around, creating some havoc and getting penetration … as I sit down and watch (McClain), I think he's the complete package."
McClain, who is weighing his options among the national senior showcase games, has three sacks and a team-best six quarterback hurries, and he's hoping to take some of the spotlight Friday from Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who could be a top-five pick in next year's draft.
"I did my role on this team, being a disruptive player," he said. "I think I did a pretty good job. I learned a new setup with (defensive coordinator Mark) Snyder's defense, and I loved the package we had for every game."
USF defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie were drafted in April, and USF could have more draft picks in ends Craig Marshall and David Bedford. Defensive tackles coach Kevin Patrick said skill-position players are often deemed a team's best athletes, but what McClain does at 310 pounds is exceptional.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Patrick said. "Terrell is one of our best athletes out there, pound for pound, and his work ethic has really improved this year. He's seeing things quicker; he's able to react quicker. That, on top of his athletic ability, his strength, his body size, is going to provide him with all the ability he needs to play at the next level."