Brian McNally couldn’t stop smiling.
The outside linebacker, signed by the Redskins as a rookie free agent, was still soaked in sweat from the final practice of this past weekend’s rookie mini-camp. “It’s kind of surreal, knowing you’re actually playing football in the NFL. Playing with these guys…” He hesitates for a moment and laughs, shaking his head. “It’s tough to put into words. It’s a great opportunity and these guys are great athletes, so I’m just happy to be on the field with them right now.”
A great opportunity for a player from an unconventional football background to show what he’s made of.
Cornwall, New York, would not be easily mistaken for a football hotbed. A bedroom community 50 miles north of New York City, the town of just over 12 thousand is more identified with it’s annual Fall Festival than for Friday night lights. Yet it was here that McNally began his journey that would lead him all the way to Ashburn.
“McNally was an absolute beast in high school. He played varsity in his sophomore year and a lot of the time had no trouble manhandling much older kids on the varsity squad,” James Nichols, a high school teammate of McNally, remembered, “me included.”
A two-way player, McNally was a key component of a team that would reach the New York State high school football championships in 2007 and was legendary for his acts of brute strength. “I saw him make more one handed tackles than anyone I have ever known,” Nichols said. “He would just get two fingers of his huge hands on a guy’s jersey and would bring him down. “
The second team all-state defensive end would head to the University of New Hampshire to play collegiately, setting record after record for the Wildcats. In 2010 McNally racked up 13.5 sacks, a single season record for UNH. In a 47-17 win against Villanova in 2011, he had a career high 3.5 sacks. Finally, by the end of his four years in college, McNally 28.5 sacks would make him New Hampshire’s all-time leader.
Despite the accomplishments and accolades (he was a two-time All-CAA first teamer), McNally was a realist when it came to the 2012 NFL draft. “I knew more than likely I’d end up as a college free agent, I’m a free-agent type player. I knew there was a very outside chance of maybe getting picked up in the 7th round but I wasn’t expecting too much.”
Sitting in his Cornwall home late during the last round of the NFL Draft, McNally got the call he’d worked so hard to receive.
“I got a call from Coach Slowik. He was talking to me about playing outside linebacker for the Redskins if I didn’t get drafted,” McNally said. When the draft finished, he received another call from the Redskins. “Right as the draft ended Coach Slowik called me again, Coach (Haslett) called me, said we’d like to sign you. I felt like it was a good opportunity. Me and my agent both agreed so we took the opportunity and now I’m here.”
With rookie mini-camp over McNally will head home for a week, then rejoin the team this Sunday when all members of the Redskins report for OTA’s and has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker.
After wearing the Burgundy and Gold all weekend, McNally’s new reality of a potential NFL player has begun to sink in – but will become all the more real once he gets into the classroom. “I think when I get in that meeting room on Monday, next week, and you got guys like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in the same meeting room as you, you’re going to be like ‘wow, these are some special players I’m playing with”, it’ll be pretty cool.”
And he’ll still be smiling.
Tags: Brian McNally, outside linebacker, rookie, University of New Hampshire, washington redskins
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