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Updated: Thursday, 08 Nov 2012, 5:12 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 08 Nov 2012, 5:12 PM CST
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - He's made recent headlines for his life troubles after football and arrests related to drug charges. But in days past, Keith McCants exploits in sports were the media topics of discussion. The Mobile native and Murphy High School graduate was one of the country's "best" on the gridiron in the 80s and 90s. McCants recently shared about those days and his challenges.
"I have beaten the odds all my life. I was an All American at Murphy. I was an All American at Alabama, and I want to be an All American in life," shares McCants.
He has seen the best and the worst of what life's decisions can bring. His talent on the football field took him from Mobile's Orange Grove housing park to the National Football League. Seventeen years after injuries forced an early end to a promising NFL career, Mccants is battling other foes as he works to be a success in life again.
Success in sports came early for McCants. He said he was always big for his age, in middle school his size forced him to play with older boys.
"I was the youngest out there, and it made me better. And, then when I started dominating and being more competitive with the older guys, they would say, ‘This guy's going pro. He's good,’" recalled McCants.
At Murphy High School, McCants excelled in sports.
"I got recruited for basketball as well. Charles Barkley recruited me. He asked me to come to Auburn. Auburn told him to ask me to come there. I could play both sports. I always strived to be the best. If I couldn't be the best, I wanted to be one of the best. When we ran at practice, I wanted to be first. So I pushed myself. I pushed myself at practice and in the games. I was determined to be successful at whatever I did," said McCants.
The awards and recognition rolled in. McCants became one of the top high school football players in Alabama and the nation. He was named first Team All-State and the sports writers Super 12 Team. McCants said he wanted to keep his college options open, but his visit to Alabama was overwhelming.
"They didn't ask me to go. Head Coach Ray Perkins told me I was coming there. ‘I can't wait until you get here, Keith McCants, I’ve heard a lot about you and you're going to love it here. (he said.)’ I said okay. It was overwhelming," recalls McCants.
McCants could not wait to start playing in Tuscaloosa.
"It's so exciting, and you can’t wait to get out there. When I hit the field, well they told me, say, ‘Well, Keith you can be the next Cornelius Bennett. I said I'd rather be the first Keith McCants. Derrick Thomas was my hero he was the best. He really taught me the game and how to play and how to study my opponents. I was a student of the game. A lot of people felt that I was a great athlete, but I was also a hard worker. The more you put in the more you get out of it. Pushing Ford Broncos around the University of Alabama campus helped me, we were running stadium steps at 3:30(or) 4 in the morning in the coliseum. The extra things, you do the little things that make you the best or one of the best," said McCants.
At Alabama, he earned All-South Eastern Conference and numerous All-American honors. McCants was also a CBS National Defensive Player of the Year, and a Butkus Award runner up. The same field McCants became a star on also brought pain to an old high school injury.
"Playing on that Astroturf really, really took a toll on me. I practiced hard. I played hard and my knees got worse and worse and worse, and I had a couple of surgeries. The doctor knew how bad my injuries were. And others who knew would say he's not going to last too much longer. You're one play away from being damaged. I didn't play but two years at Alabama. I knew I was hurt that's why I left early," shares McCants.
Uncommon at that time, McCants declared for the NFL player draft as a Junior.
"I never thought I would be the number one player in the country out of 600,000 college football players. I never thought or dreamed of being that, but I strived for it," proudly he reflected.
McCants was the fourth player selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many observers felt he would have been number one if not for rumors about his knees. He signed a reported 5-year, $7.4 million contract, one of the highest for a draft pick at that time. He played three seasons for the Buccaneers, followed by two seasons for the Houston Oilers and the Arizona Cardinals. Despite some success, McCants said he was always playing in pain.
"I actually played on one knee for like 6 years, 6 seasons in the NFL. I was really, really hurt every game I played. I played hurt in the NFL," shared McCants.
A neck injury ended want could have been a longer professional career.
"I had landed on top of my head and it messed up my neck and vertebrae. They said if I get hit, I would be paralyzed for life. That's the way the game goes. It's really a tough business,” said McCants.
McCants said the pain medication he was
given to help him play on Sunday those six NFL seasons is why he's where he is now.
"You can always say that happened because I was in the wrong area or you can make any kind of excuse. But the truth of the matter is I was hooked on drugs when I left the league; not street drugs, prescription drugs. It's an epidemic among athletes and in society. The pain medication carries over to other drugs," shared McCants.
Those other drugs have led to arrests and other charges for McCants. Despite it, all he's determined to win again.
"You've been so successful all your life. Everything I did ,I was a success in. How do I handle the failures? People don't make it back from where I come from. They're dead. and they're dying every day. I tried to commit suicide. I know I have a living testimony to tell about by the grace of God.
I'm off to a good start I have an everyday battle," McCants said.
Keith McCants said the program he's in now has helped him stay sober and drug free since his last arrest in December 2010. Now he speaks to athlete's in high school and college about life, it's challenges and making the right decisions about drugs, both prescription and illegal. McCants is also talking to NFL officials about creating "life" program for its players to help them as they go into the league, while they're playing, and as they transition back into a normal life.