‘You Might Be the Next Freak’
At the Combine, Alex McCalister‘s formal interview card was completely filled up — both front and back — with teams trying to figure out exactly what type of prospect they were dealing with.
“Like if you Google my name, you read, you’re probably like, ‘This kid’s crazy,'” said McCalister, the 6-6 edge rusher out of Florida. “So just being in front of cats, just talking, showing who I really am definitely helped.”
There was plenty of explaining to do. He was suspended a game for violating team rules at the beginning of the 2015 season, and was reportedly dismissed by the Gators at the end of the year.
The first part is true, McCalister says. He “missed too many meetings” and showed other signs of immaturity during the summer of ’15 while Florida was in the midst of a coaching transition and was suspended for the opener against New Mexico State along with two other players.
“Just young and dumb,” he said. “That’s something I’ll never do again, something that really helped me grow. I’m kinda glad I went through that because there’s no telling where I’d be if I didn’t go through that; I’d probably still be the same, immature type of cat.”
The second part — that McCalister was kicked off the team — is inaccurate according to the 22-year-old. He suffered a severe right ankle injury against South Carolina in November and missed the rest of the season. McCalister remained on the team and continued to rehab in the facilities, he said.
“That was all false. That’s not true at all,” said McCalister. “We can’t even find the reporter that wrote it, so we have no idea [where that came from].”
NFL teams got the real story either by contacting the Florida coaching staff directly or through those formal meetings at the Combine, McCalister said. The Eagles heard enough to convince them to take a shot on him in the seventh round.
He was plucked later than anticipated, though. Word from his agent and scouts around the league had him thinking that he would be selected between rounds 3 and 5, but the wait proved to be longer than that.
“The agent is telling you one thing, teams keep calling you, ‘Oh, you’re about to go this round, that round,'” said McCalister. “Then I finally got a call from here and it was like a blessing. The clouds cleared up, the sun came out, all types of stuff. It was definitely great.”
The 243 pounds doesn’t look like much (by NFL standards) spread across his 6-6 frame and 7-2 wingspan. Jim Schwartz has been jokingly calling him a free safety, a not so subtle hint that the rookie needs to add some mass to play defensive end in the league. The goal is to get up to 255.
“I’m 243 right now so a couple more weeks, a couple more pizzas, I’ll be good,” he said with a smile.
The build looks familiar to those who have been hanging around the NovaCare for a while.
“I’ve been hearing it. As soon as I walked in I heard it. ‘The Freak,’ they kept saying, ‘you might be the next Freak,'” said McCalister, obviously referencing the 6-4 Jevon Kearse (who ultimately weighed in at around 265). “That’s what I’m definitely trying to be. He had a great career here so I’m definitely trying to follow that up.”
Schwartz happened to be Kearse’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee from 2001-03. Kearse racked up 21.5 sacks over 34 games in that Wide-9 front before signing with Philadelphia, where his numbers dropped.
Much to accomplish before he gets into ‘Freak’ territory, but at least McCalister has a good skill set to attack that goal with. Armed with a quick release and long levers, he led the Gators with 6.5 sacks last season and added 9.5 tackles for a loss despite playing in just nine games.
Like Kearse, he appears to be designed to line up wide and attack the quarterback off the edge, which is why he feels fortunate to have landed with the Eagles — seventh round or no.
“It’s a blessing to be here, for real,” he said. “I couldn’t ask to be in a better scheme right now.”