Former Tiger Todd McClure had a long wait in 1999, but finally got the NFL call

“You just sigh. It’s just relief.” TODD McClure, former LSU center on getting called in the NFL draft

Trey McClure learned his little brother went off the board in the NFL draft without the help of a television.

Or a phone.

And without hearing a single word uttered.

Instead, the former LSU baseball player stood in the on-deck circle waiting for his at-bat against Alabama. Behind home plate, his father stood up and played an impromptu game of charades. The act: Mimicking the Dirty Bird celebration made famous by the Atlanta Falcons.

“He just looked at me confused for a second,” Leo McClure said. “So I had to mouth the word ‘Atlanta.’”

Six hours away, LSU center Todd McClure’s wait ended mercifully in the seventh round of the 1999 NFL draft as pick No. 237 — three rounds later than his agent projected the All-American to be plucked.

“You just sigh,” Todd McClure said. “It’s just relief.”

On Thursday, the draft will open with pomp and pageantry during three-hour plus gala where Roger Goodell reads off names, men clad in a tailored suits emerges from a green room for bear hugs and the assurances of millions.

Then there are selections such as McClure. Watch party? No. Try immediate family and a few close friends. By Saturday, when rounds four through seven arrive, only football junkies and nervous prospects wait in three-minute intervals to hear their name called in what might as well be a swap meet.

“You are in a helpless situation,” said Todd McClure, who retired in 2012 after a 13-year career. “All I ever said, though, was that I wanted an opportunity to take control of it and make it happen.”

Four months earlier, though, getting tabbed at all would suffice, Leo McClure said. Ahead of the Senior Bowl or the NFL scouting combine, agents who met with the family weren’t sure whether he’d be drafted.

Stature dictated much of the thinking. Despite starting for three seasons, Todd McClure stood 6-foot-1 and was deemed somewhat undersized for his position. And the Tigers’ scheme under Gerry DiNardio tilted heavily to the run.

A week spent training with Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz ahead of the scouting combine, though, was the forerunner to a solid combine. At home, Todd trekked to Covington to work out with former LSU trainer Kurt Hester and other local prospects, slowly pushing his stock into the middle rounds.

“Everything we were hearing had me at a third- or fourth-round pick,” Todd McClure said.

But he passed on big soirée. Knowing he’d be a second-day pick, his mother and younger brother gathered with his grandparents and Todd’s new wife at his parents’ house.

“I didn’t want a real big deal,” he said. “In case I go where I didn’t think I’d go, I didn’t want people there looking at me and staring the whole time.”

Leo?

He tailed Trey, then a redshirt senior, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to watch pivotal weekend series for LSU. It was ritual. Leo McClure missed only one game in his eldest boy’s career — a rescheduled midweek game — and didn’t have pangs about leaving Baton Rouge.

“If a kid of mine was competing, I was going to be there,” Leo McClure said.

Periodically, Leo would ring the house and get a status update. The logic, laid out by his son’s agent, was Todd McClure would be the third center off the board. Yet by the third round, only two were selected. A late call from the Detroit Lions gave hope: They wanted him with their first pick in the fourth round.

“That made me feel good thinking I’d go early in the second day,” Todd McClure said.

They took Michigan State running back Sedrick Irvin. Todd was passed over in the sixth round when the New York Jets took Illinois center J.P. Machado. Anxious, he simply got up and went outside the toss a few spirals with Tanner McClure. He’s glad no cameras were on site for a live look-in.

“You feel bad for that guy,” Todd McClure said. “You have your high expectations. You have people saying when you’re going to be drafted, while other people are asking. It’s just a lot of stress and not a good feeling.”

Leo McClure, a longtime football coach at Central, didn’t fret. Todd already surpassed expectations playing in Tiger Stadium. Aspiring to the NFL? His son didn’t attend a pro game until his senior year in college — “The second game he watched, he played in,” Leo said — and was prepared for the reality of signing as an undrafted free agent.

“The proof was in the pudding,” Todd McClure said. “We’ve done the work. When they decide where you fit, that’s where you’re going.”

Every so often, Trey would throw a probing look his father’s direction from the dugout during a 9-4 loss, one where he clubbed a two-run homer. Has he gone yet?

The resolution came modestly. Todd McClure’s agent rang. He told the lineman the Falcons were taking him. A few minutes later, then-Falcons coach Dan Reeves was on the line.

“I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ a lot,” Todd McClure said.

There were simply hugs in the house and another call to forward word to Leo, whose final role in the chain of passing word may have been harder if it weren’t the Falcons.

“I don’t care if it Seattle, Minnesota or Buffalo,” he said. “You just wanted him to have a chance.”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter @MHarrisAdvocate. For more coverage of LSU football visit the Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.