Matt McCants looks like the NFL offensive tackle that he is — a 6-foot-5, 309-pound mountain of a man who is a four-year veteran of the league with the Oakland Raiders.
The Williamson High School graduate has always been big, but it wasn’t until his senior year at WHS that his mother allowed him to play football. McCants was playing tuba in the band and his mother told him he couldn’t play football until his grades improved.
“I made a deal with her: If I can make all As this semester, you will allow me to play,” he said of his mother, who looked on in the audience on Monday. “I held up that end of the bargain and she allowed me to go out and play.”
A year later, McCants signed a football scholarship with UAB. Five years later, he played in the Senior Bowl and was drafted by the New York Giants. Nine years later, he just signed a new contract with the Raiders and hopes to compete for a starting job this fall.
McCants returned to his alma mater on Monday to encourage Williamson students that no matter which path they choose, if they set goals and focus on those goals, they can achieve them.
“I walked these same halls,” McCants said. “My path was a little different than other NFL players. I had a really hard route to get there, but with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
“If you make goals, if you want to go somewhere, if you want to do something and you work hard, you can do it.”
McCants’ journey was not without its rough spots. His very first day of spring practice at Williamson, he broke his arm. “I had to hear mom say, ‘I told you so,'” he laughed. “I just overcame it all.”
Now, after signing a new one-year contract with Oakland, McCants is hoping to compete for a starting spot on the Raiders’ offensive line. “As long as I’m in the conversation and I have a legit opportunity to start and be a player, that’s all I ask for,” he said, adding that with his later start in football, he is still improving as a player. “Now I’m able to peak at the right time. When a lot of guys may be filtering out, I’m still peaking. … I just needed a team that was patient with me, and the Raiders were.”
McCants, who appeared in conjunction with the Mobile County Health Department, also presented his Raiders jersey and a signed football for display at the school.
“Don’t be afraid of failure,” McCants said. “You can’t go through life afraid to fail. You’ve just got to go full-speed, 100 percent, and even if you do fail, you gave it your all and you just keep on fighting. If you get knocked down, you’ve just got to snap right back up.”