Kevin McCadam: A Rover Finds a Home
by Neal Williams
TSL Extra, Issue #16
Who hasnít had the experience when shopping for shoes?
You go into the store knowing you are a perfect size 11. Youíve been a size 11 all your adult life. The salesman brings out a stack of size 11s from a variety of makers in a variety of styles.
One feels OK. Pretty good, actually. Just not quite right. One is a tad tight, another is a tad loose.
Then you slip your feet into one Ė still a size 11 Ė and you know right away thatís the shoe to buy. Itís perfect, like it was made specifically with you in mind.
All size 11s, and only one is just right. The shoe thing kind of sums up Kevin McCadamís life as a football player. He was a free safety. The position fit him just fine. Then he tried on rover and he knew. Heíd found the perfect spot.
"Once I switched, I realized I was just more comfortable playing the rover position. It fit me a little better," McCadam said.
Watching McCadam play as a Virginia Tech senior, it was obvious heíd found his perfect spot. McCadam slipped into the rover spot like heíd been there all his life and turned in a season to remember.
It was a season thatís given him hope that he can continue his playing career in the National Football League.
"Kevin had a great year, was a pleasant surprise," said Jim Cavanaugh, the Hokiesí assistant who coaches rovers and outside linebackers. "As the season went on he became more and more confident at the position. He became a very good tackler and his coverage skills were excellent."
Itís OK to admit now that the idea of McCadam at rover wasnít one that inspired thoughts of potential greatness. It wasnít that anyone thought heíd be a bad rover. There was just nothing to suggest that heíd emerge as a standout.
His path to Tech was very long and very twisted. From the San Diego area, he originally headed to Colorado State. The move came not long after his father Ė and perhaps his biggest fan Ė died. It turned out to be too soon. He was not ready to be away and he was worried about leaving his mother alone so soon after such a tragedy.
He stuck out that first season, sitting it out as a redshirt. During spring drills, he broke a collarbone. He decided soon after that to head home, a decision that proved to be very wise.
McCadam enrolled at Grossmont College not far from his home. He sat out the following season to let his collarbone heal then turned in a standout season for Grossmont. He was the teamís defensive Most Valuable Player and special teams player of the year. J.C. Grid Wire named him a second-team All-America.
The two years at home helped him personally as well as athletically. He could move on again, and he chose to move a long way away. Virginia Tech, he knew from watching the 2000 Sugar Bowl, offered a chance to compete at the highest level.
McCadamís first year as a Hokie was spent backing up Willie Pile at free safety. The best way to describe the year was non-descript. Not good, not bad. He played in nine games after recovering from an ankle injury and made 28 tackles.
"It was kind of hard," McCadam said. "I wasnít completely comfortable with the defense at the time. Willie could make a lot of checks that I couldnít. I understand why I didnít play as much as I would have liked."
McCadamís difficulties werenít anything that most first-year players donít experience. The difference was he was first year to the program. He was third-year overall, which left him with one more season. He had to put it in fast forward.
"I knew I couldnít afford another mediocre year," he said.
He looked at the rover position, at the time manned by Cory Bird and backed up by Philip Summers. Both seniors. Hmmm, McCadam thought. Pile, a year behind McCadam, wasnít going anywhere. Maybe I could be a rover, he thought.
McCadam started dropping hints to Cavanaugh and defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
"I was kind of hounding them, encouraging them to make a decision," McCadam said with a laugh. "I wanted to get on the field. There was no sense having me and Willie play the same position. That was really the only position I could move to.
"It was kind of joking and kind of serious. They were receptive from the start. Iíd always ask Coach Cav, ĎWhenís our first meeting?í"
Rover is a key position in the Tech defense. Itís most comparable to strong safety Ė thatís where Bird ended up with the Indianapolis Colts and where McCadam will play if he makes the NFL Ė but thereís more to it than that. Coverage responsibility, run responsibility and more go into the job.
McCadam proved to be the right pick.
Heís a fierce hitter who didnít forget the basics of his days as the deep back. He became a defensive mainstay. He, Pile and linebacker Ben Taylor were the only Hokie defenders to play more than 600 plays in 2001, and only Taylor (659) was on the field for more defensive snaps than McCadam (642).
McCadam was Techís third-leading tackler with 83, eight of them behind the line of scrimmage. He recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes. He scored two touchdowns, one with a fumble and one with an interception.
He was somehow left off the All-Big East teams. If there was a most improved award, he would have been an exceptional candidate, although he really wasnít that improved. He was just showcased in a better spot for him.
"I had a good year," McCadam said. "I wouldnít say itís a great year. I would never say that about myself. If I had a great year, I would have had more interceptions, would have made more big plays. I kind of just did my job.
"I think it could have happened at free safety but that would have been hard with Willie still there. I needed to step out from that position and kind of make a name for myself."
Said Cavanaugh, "We knew he had the skills and were pleased he was able to apply them as quickly as he did. It was like all of a sudden, bingo, there it is. Going into the season, I was worried about his tackling being consistent. He was what weíd call a block tackler, heíd shock them but wouldnít wrap up all the time. He became very good at that. Another problem at free safety was heíd sometimes try to do too much, try to see everything. At rover, he really concentrated on his assignments and did a good job."
With the season over, McCadam hasnít stopped thinking football. Signing date for prep prospects is just past, and the Hokie Nation is abuzz about the incoming crop. McCadam in a way is going through the recruiting process on the other end.
Heíll be poked, prodded and tested and hope someone is impressed enough to use a draft choice or offer him a free agent opportunity. At the very least, he should get that much.
"I try not to get too much into that," he said. "Iíve seen a lot of people in the past, they listen too much to their agents or what the scouts are saying. We like you here, we like you there, throwing out rounds Ö it doesnít mean much. Thereís so much that can happen."
McCadam is enrolled at Tech this semester. Heíll finish a bit short of a degree in history "but the classes Iíll be short will be easy to make up." Heís also working out hard in preparation for the Hokiesí first pro testing day March 14. Thatíll be a big chance to catch the eye of a scout or several.
Heís operating somewhat below the radar. He tried but didnít get an invitation to any of the seemingly three zillion all-star games. He wasnít invited to the annual scouting combine.
Heíll have to make his point completely on his own, and thatís OK by him. He just looks at the case of former teammate Nick Sorensen for encouragement. Yes, the same Sorensen who played in the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams.
"Watching Nickís whole situation is definitely an inspiration," McCadam said. "Iíve been so happy to see all his progress. It would have been nice to go to one of those games, get to the combine. But so many guys who do all that stuff donít make it. And you get guys like Nick who didnít go to the combine and he goes to the Super Bowl.
"From this point to the draft, itís like a beauty pageant. Itís how big you are, how fast you are, how you look in all your drills. They want to see your upside, your potential, that kind of thing."
With his background on the west coast and his two seasons at Tech, McCadam has become a bi-coastal guy. He loves different aspects of both places and would be comfortable eventually settling down on either side of the country. For purposes of pro ball, he has no preferences. Heíll go to either coast, anywhere in between, anywhere up or anywhere down. Warm, cold, east, west, north, south Ö heís easy to please.
"Itís all very exciting," he said. "Growing up as a little kid, you watch football on TV and youíre like, ĎI want to play there.í Itís a light at the end of the tunnel thing, and itís right here in front of me. I kind of seize that opportunity every day when I go and work out.
"I definitely have a chance. Anywhere in the NFL is a great place to play. I will play hard. Thatís the mentality I bring and I just want a shot to let them know I can play."