The Ravens' music man arrives in the locker room at Westminster bright and early each morning with his boombox, a few tunes and a smile. In the dog days of training camp, Jameel McClain can be counted on to raise the spirits of those souls who don't know yet whether they're coming or going in the NFL.
Souls like Art Jones, the team's fifth-round draft pick, who witnessed McClain's musical interlude when they played together at Syracuse.
"Jameel's a guy who lifts up your energy," Jones, a rookie defensive tackle, said. "Even now, I have to laugh. I know him real well. Camp's rough right now -- extremely. You wake up and it's like you haven't had any sleep at all.
"But Jameel, every morning, comes in here and he has his little boombox and he just gets energy flowing, waking guys up, every single day. ÃÂ He just walks around with his boombox, dancing. It's an uplifting thing, really."
As much as any player on the team, McClain, 25, makes the most of each day in the NFL, sweeping aside the negatives like so much debris in his path. There appear to be no obstacles he can't overcome -- from homelessness in his youth to not being drafted after starting four years at Syracuse.
Now in his third season, the hybrid linebacker-defensive end is poised to move into the Ravens' starting lineup at right inside linebacker beside Ray Lewis.
He has worked with the first unit most of training camp. He is stout against the run, competent in coverage and dangerous as a pass rusher.
McClain worked two years in the shadows and on special teams, and now his time seems to have come.
"I know he's been in a position in the past where he's been a very, very valuable backup, and he still is, but they all are," said the Ravens' new linebackers coach, Dean Pees. "But I never felt like a guy should not be a starter just because he's a valuable backup at more than one spot."
McClain ranked in the top three in special-teams tackles his first two seasons with the Ravens. He worked at outside linebacker (2008) and inside linebacker (2009), but he learned all four positions along the way, so thorough was his grasp of the defensive scheme.
During summer passing camps, Pees rotated Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe, last year's starters, and Jason Phillips at each linebacker position so they could gain familiarity. But he had McClain take his most repetitions at the inside spot beside Lewis.
"The point was, to get good at a position, you've got to keep playing that position," Pees said. "If you're two plays here and two plays someplace else, you never will get all the looks you need to see at the position."
So far, McClain has been the most consistent player at the position. What Pees likes is not only McClain's physical style against the run, but also his big-picture intelligence.
McClain refuses to consider whether his versatility has held him back during his career, and he doesn't blink at his jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none reputation.
"I've heard that saying before. But why not be a master of all of them?" he said. "Nothing's impossible unless you shut your mind to it."
That's an attitude that has steadied McClain through the bumps in his life. It certainly helped when he, three siblings and his mother spent a year living at a Salvation Army shelter in Philadelphia when he was 8. It got him through tough times in a down era at Syracuse.
And it was a lesson that was reinforced when he moved in with Gloria and Greg Smith, his aunt and uncle, in northeast Philadelphia when he was 15.
"Basically I told him to stay positive no matter what, and to put his best foot forward and be respectful to everyone," Greg Smith said.
Gloria stressed academics and Greg stressed doing the right things. McClain did better than either expected.
"He was able to adapt to anything," Smith said. "Everything we asked him to do, he did. That's what was so unique about him. I'm so proud of Jameel. If I want my son [Gregory II] to be anything, I want him to be just like Jameel. To me, he is my son."
McClain heeded the message so well that he graduated from Syracuse early and made the dean's list his final year with a double major in communications and sociology. He was so selfless that when he was asked to change positions on defense in his senior year, he did so without reservation or complaint, but not without consequence.
McClain led the Big East with 9.5 sacks as a junior at the quick end spot. Moved to linebacker as a senior, he had just 1.5 sacks on a bad team. He went to the scouting combine in February but went undrafted in April.
"It makes you strong," he said of his Syracuse experience, with no hint of regret.
In the absence of his father, who was incarcerated much of his early life, McClain found male role models in his older brother, Andrew Jackson, who is a personal trainer, and Smith, who works for Social Security.