Senior Signing Spotlight: Eddie McClendon
Mesa WR/DB makes tough choice to walk-on at Northern Arizona
This is No. 14 in a month-long series of profiles of Arizona high school seniors that signed with four-year colleges. Here's the full list (currently totaling 289) of players from within the state moving on to the next level.
Northern Arizona announced its 24-member recruiting class earlier this month. It was pulled together quickly as new head coach Chris Ball was hired in December. Just five players signed in the early period in December. Of the two dozen players from the Class of 2019, nine are from within the state.
An additional five seniors from Arizona are known to be walking on with the Lumberjacks. One of those is Mesa High's Eddie McClendon.
McClendon had a lot to look over. Eight different schools from the Division II, Division III, or NAIA levels had presented offers to the 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver and safety. That included Division II institutions Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado.
But, another opportunity came along. The week before National Signing Day, McClendon had discussions with NAU wide receivers coach Junior Taylor and offensive coordinator Aaron Pflugrad and he received the preferred walk-on from the Lumberjacks. Taylor is new to the position at Northern Arizona. He held the same role at Wagner College (N.Y.) last year and prior to that, was the wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator at Mesa.
When McClendon committed to it two days later, he called NAU his dream school. He hadn't been on an official visit since it was so late in the process, but he was on hand after being invited to the Homecoming Game in the Skydome last October against Cal Poly.
McClendon said the decision was very difficult. Not just from a football standpoint, but from the financial side.
"It has always been a dream for me to play Division I football," McClendon said in an e-mail interview. "I felt most comfortable knowing I have a close friend and coach in Junior Taylor."
Also supporting McClendon in the decision was his family, including his grandparents, and former MHS basketball coach Shane Burcar, who is now an assistant at Northern Arizona. McClendon has a 3.3 GPA and will be on some academic scholarship while in Flagstaff.
The passing game improved for Mesa last season. The Jackrabbits went from averaging 192 yards through the air per game in 2017 to 242 last season. McClendon was the primary reason for that as he collected 52 receptions for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games played.
"The difference was knowing I had to make plays for the team to win," McClendon said. "The key difference was my quarterback (sophomore Gabby Mendoza). He gave me more opportunities and put his trust in me to make big plays."
McClendon had a record-setting night on Sept. 28 at Dobson. He amassed 235 yards on just nine catches (26.1-yard average) and took seven of those into the end zone for touchdowns. To add some icing to the cake, McClendon also recovered two fumbles and scored on one of them accounting for all eight touchdowns in a 56-13 victory over the Mustangs.
Story: @MesaHSathletics Football went on the road and beat the Dobson Mustangs, 56-13. @eddie_mcclendon tied the Arizona high school football 6A state scoring record with 8 total touchdowns. Mesa sophomore quarterback Gabby Mendoza went 13-for-19 for 303 yards, 7 touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/UZMAKQgq3x— Ethan Schmidt (@TheEthanSchmidt) October 2, 2018
On defense, McClendon tallied 59 tackles and intercepted four passes, giving him 10 for his high school career (two years as a starter). When asked which side of the ball he prefers, McClendon said it was on the offense.
"I'm physical," McClendon said. "I like to get dirty and block. Everybody likes to score TDs, but not everyone wants to be physical at wide receiver. I will miss playing DB as I was an elite one."
Other things McClendon said he'll miss about his days at Mesa are the Carry On tradition, assemblies for football, and the winning culture during basketball season. He played on the Jackrabbits' hoops team, which went 18-11 and won a play-in game to become the No. 12 seed in this year's 6A tournament.
Northern Arizona (4-6 last season) has 12 games on its schedule this year (six at home). It all begins on Thursday, Aug. 29 against Missouri State. A week later, the Jacks will test themselves in Pac-12 country against Arizona in Tucson. The Homecoming Game will once again be on the last weekend of October. The opponent this year will be Portland State.
Mesa has had its share of struggles. The Jackrabbits' last playoff game was in 2015. But, McClendon has persevered and made it through to the next level. And he's ready for that challenge of trying to get on the field.
"A lot of people don't know the adversity I went through at Mesa High," McClendon said. "If they did, things would be different. I'm grateful with what I have and I'm going to take advantage of my opportunity."