Just days before Super Bowl LV, Lacrosse Playground editors Adam Moore and Hutton Jackson spoke with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Steve McLendon about his NFL career, preparing for the Super Bowl and passion for lacrosse, which his sons play in Atlanta, Georgia. Read what the NFL veteran had to say.
Lacrosse Playground: Steve, thank you for joining us before the big game, how has preparing for the Super Bowl been?
Steve McLendon: Everything is so exciting. But we have to understand. Don’t get too emotional. Don’t get too high right now just continue to finish the process. Everything will take care of itself come Sunday at 6:30 pm. We know everyone here is excited about this opportunity. We’re all super thankful. We all have put in so much work to get to this point, so we are looking forward to Sunday. Like I said man, we are all just excited to get going.
Lacrosse Playground: How are your nerves right now? Have you approached this game any differently than the rest?
Steve McLendon: My nerves are pretty much the same, but you’re just more excited than normal. This is the biggest stage of our lives right now and you don’t want to look past this moment. You want to live in the moment. You want to love this moment because this moment doesn’t come often. We just want to be super thankful for this moment. But yeah, the nerves are pretty much the same. You just lock in and focus even more. You just have to make sure you hone those details and finish with those things.
Lacrosse Playground: Talk about your journey in professional football to get this moment.
Steve McLendon: My journey is a beautiful one. I never think of it as some horror story, but rather the obstacles that I had to go through. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it. It has taught me so much. It’s taught me how to be humble. It has taught me how to work extremely hard. It taught me how to stay focused. It’s taught me how to stay driven and it has helped me understand that you only have one life to live, so make sure you live life to the fullest.
Lacrosse Playground: You were dealt from the winless Jets to the Bucs midway through this season. Talk about the trade and landing on a team in contention.
Steve McLendon: For me, my goal has never changed. My mindset has never changed. The one goal that has always been there was to play in the Super Bowl. When I was in New York, I screenshotted a picture of the [Lombardi] trophy and the flag of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a zoom call in the beginning of the season, and I said ‘I’ll be playing there’ and this is confirmation for me. It’s always the affirmation and believing in myself that I can do it, I will do it, we will do it.
I didn’t know I would end up here. When I ended up getting traded, that picture popped back up in my memory on my phone and I was like ‘the time is now. The opportunity is here’. You have this opportunity, so make sure you put your best foot forward.
And just all around playing with and being back around Coach [Todd] Bowles, Casey Rogers, just so many of the guys. Just having that opportunity to just be a part of something that’s making history right now. It’s a beautiful thing here with the coaches. It’s a beautiful thing being here with the players. The culture here is strong. We are like brothers here. The guys accepted me very well when I came in. They listened to me when I came in. So it’s just another beautiful thing, another beautiful story that I can tell my kids 10 years from now. I started at a place of only striving to be at where I’m at today. And nobody can tell you no. You control your own fate. You put the work in the work, anything that you want to accomplish you can I tell my kids always. Just continue to work hard and whatever you put in, you will get out. I’m a true believer in that. If you stay focused and stay driven and understand you have one life to live, you can accomplish absolutely anything. And also, with that being said, you have to train insane or you will remain the same. I really realized that over the years. I would train every year, every off season, I would train insane because I’ve never wanted to remain the same.
Lacrosse Playground: You mentioned your kids. We know they are big fans of lacrosse. How did your family get interested in the sport?
Steve McLendon: It was my oldest son. And at the time, I want to say he was nine since he’s been playing for going on two and a half years. We were walking on the football field and we just finished working out. He was like ‘Dad, I can play that sport’. I was like alright, I’ll sign you up.
I signed him up and the first year and he made all stars. Then the second year, as we had a fall season and went to the spring season, he was offered to come try out for a travel club, which is a really good travel club. He ended up making the team and then he just started doing some amazing things. I tell him all the time, in a sport I had never seen, you are gifted at it. All I can do is try to help you build on it. I’ll reach out to as many of the lacrosse guys as I can.
I study the game as much as I do with football, because of the strength of my kids. And since they were going to play it, I want to make sure that I can help them in any way possible. And I feel like for my son to start playing, it opened up a lot of doors for a lot of other kids to start playing as well. Because a lot of kids, especially for the African American kids, where we were from, nobody’s ever seen the sport and never played. So I was showing them that this is a sport that you can play as well. And it’s very fun. This is the ultimate sport, you know. Football, they all say, it’s the ultimate sport, but lacrosse is like 10 sports in one. You know, you have your soccer, you have your football, you have your basketball, you have your baseball. You got to have that endurance. There’s just so much that goes into lacrosse. You have to have that focus, you got to have that drive, that eye coordination. You have to compete. Not only compete, you got to work together to communicate. So when I seen that, all those things. I was like this is absolutely a great sport.
I’m glad that my son is playing because he plays other sports as well. But lacrosse helped and with basketball because he does like the jump ball. So it helps with the face-off. Just being able to go one-on-one with somebody. In basketball, he’s still picking up the dribbling but he’s okay we’re starting at the top with the goal at the bottom. He’s a middie, attackman and a defender as well. Right now, he’s pretty much doing it all. So they’re pretty much the same thing. Just look at it as you’re still on the same court. It’s just a ball and with lacrosse you just have a stick. So just understand like you can transition a bit. It even helped even more in football because his endurance was up and his field skills were so amazing. I told him if you can see that little ball, just imagine what you can see when you see that big ball.
Lacrosse Playground: If you had gotten the chance, what position would you have played?
Steve McLendon: For me personally, it would have to be defense because I’m a defensive guy right now. I couldn’t do the midfield because that’s the most running and I’m not really an offensive kind of guy. When I was younger, I probably would have liked offense, but I’ve always loved the defense. I feel like you can score on defense too, because you can take away the ball just like an interception. You can get an interception and you can just take it all the way back. Plus I like to hit people, so I think most of the our guys would be on defense.
Lacrosse Playground: You attended the PLL event Atlanta in 2019 with your sons. Talk about the Wolf Athletics pull-up competition you participated in on one of their shafts and how you connected with Jake from Wolf Athletics.
Steve McLendon: So when I first seen it, he [Jake from Wolf Athletics] said that the stick would not break. When I grabbed it, I felt a little bend. He said to me if it breaks, he’d give you a free stick. I thought ‘I’m going to show you that this is going to break’. When I started pulling up on it, it felt like it got stronger. I did a few pull ups on it, and was like this stick is not breaking at all. I was like this is the most amazing stick. Then my son was looking for a good stick at the time and I said have a perfect thing for you. That’s how we ended building that relationship, basically all off a pull up.
Lacrosse Playground: Last season, you wore a PLL Redwoods jersey to the Jets’ game on Monday Night Football. Is Redwoods LC your favorite team?
Steve McLendon: I ended up becoming real close with Matt [Kavanagh]. Me and him started talking when I was in New Jersey. He’s just a real cool guy. I started talking to him more off the field and he gave me some stuff that my son could do. Then I found out he was a Jets fan. I was like, man, even for me since he was a big Jets fan and I’m a big lacrosse fan. We ended up basically doing a jersey swap. He got a jersey of mine and he ended up getting me a real lacrosse jersey made with my number and everything. I thought this was one of the most amazing things ever. And I told him I’m wearing this to the game. He said ‘are you serious?’ and I said I’m wearing this to the game, so that’s what I wore.
Lacrosse Playground: In addition to being a professional athlete, you also started a Team MVP Gym, with MVP standing for McLendon Vision Performance. Talk about why you really decided to start MVP and what differentiates the gym from the rest.
Steve McLendon: For me, personally, I was always looking to help others. I live by a code called the focus driven life code. Focus means to follow one course until it’s successful. It’s an acronym. Driven means dreams remain in vision everyday in life, which is also acronym. And life means living in faith everyday. So and I started realizing, so if you focus on your drive, your drive becomes your life. So that basically saying if you focus on your dreams, your dreams become your life, and I wanted to be able to motivate and uplift and encourage not just athletes, not just males, but females and parents and just the general population as well. Anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish. I heard someone say the other day, we have 73 trillion cells in our body and one negative thing can make you shut down the whole system. But it takes so long for a positive to build it up. So I always started thinking why feed into negativity, when there’s so much negativity going on the world? What can I do that’s positive, that I can feed into the world as positivity? The gym started building up for me, this whole process of eight years. And once I started seeing the vision clear, I was like that’s the name, Team MVP Gym.
Lacrosse Playground: Are we going to see any lacrosse players coming through the gym anytime soon?
Steve McLendon: Oh, most definitely.
Lacrosse Playground: We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about Tom Brady appearing in his 10th Super Bowl. What’s been like playing with Tom. How’s the team really bought in heading into Super Bowl 55?
Steve McLendon: Man, first and foremost, Tom Brady is absolutely amazing. He’s a great teammate, great man, great guy. The biggest thing I saw after the game the other weekend, when we played Green Bay, he went straight to hug his son. So that let’s me know he’s a great father as well. Just to play alongside a man that comes in every day, day in and day out, with that same mindset of being the champion, that workhorse mentality is just absolutely amazing. And it makes you as another man, it makes you want to work just as hard, because you see someone else putting in the exact same work, but even more. And then like, he doesn’t take this thing lightly. And we see that as teammates, as brothers. Like you said, everybody’s super excited. It is his 10th [Super Bowl]. This is my 10th year since I’ve been back [to the Super Bowl]. It is essentially a home game for us. It is history for us. But that’s the biggest thing. A lot of us are making history this weekend, and never want to shy away from history. So we just have to make sure we do the necessary things, man, to finish it off with the W, but don’t want to look past today. Want to stay focused on the day. And just make sure every moment that we enjoy it, and love that moment, and whatever happens, happens.
Lacrosse Playground: We certainly are looking forward to watching you guys play on Sunday. Thank you again for making the time to join us. We’d love what you’re doing with the lacrosse community and how you’re paying it forward and getting your sons involved. Hopefully we will get more people involved too from this interview because that’s our goal to grow the game.
Steve McLendon: I’m pushing. I can say this, I have a probably introduced about 20 kids [to the sport]. Even some kids that had stopped playing because they were gonna go into high school and their high school didn’t offer it. And I told him, man, you do know they have travel clubs. And he picked the stick back up and he went to try it out. Got a little discouraged. I said, so if somebody gives you an no for an answer once, you just want to quit and give up? I was like, where’s the code in the gym? I said focus driven life. If this is something that you want, don’t give up on it. He ended up going to try for another club and making the team. Now he’s back playing lacrosse. So I have over 20 kids that are playing.
And I try to go watch all of them play in the midst of watching mine play. In the summertime and off season, I’ll get all my other kids that I coach, that I’m around, that play lacrosse and ask their parents [for their schedules]. And I know a lot of parents are ask “”Why do you come to my son’s games?” I just want these kids to understand that as athletes we have to stay together and we have to support each other. And for me, I want to show these younger athletes about working together, sticking together with one another. Yeah, we compete on the field, but off the field, we have to still be one because we lose ourselves sometimes in the mental effect from identity crisis because we don’t know who we are off the field. So what I started doing was just showing them who I am off the field, and then showing them that love that they can be the exact same way. You can learn how to transition from on the field to off the field. And that’s one of the biggest things for me. I want to make sure that I uplift and keep them healthy. Healthy, not just in the body, but in the mind as well.
On this episode of the Pro Lacrosse Talk Podcast, Hutton Jackson is joined by Redwoods LC attackman Rob Pannell. Pannell discusses playing for Cornell in college, winning an MLL championship and MVP with the New York Lizards and winning a gold medal with Team USA. He also discusses playing in the PLL with the Redwoods, the highs and lows of the 2022 PLL season and his new NFT collection called BraveHeartz that he’s releasing with Grant Ament.
Pro Lacrosse Talk is the first and only podcast covering all three professional lacrosse leagues (NLL, PLL, Athletes Unlimited). Each week throughout the season, we’ll recap the games, provide analysis on the teams and feature exclusive postgame and off-the-field interviews with professional lacrosse players, coaches and executives.
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