Alabama junior All-American linebacker Rolando McClain is the recipient of the 2009 Dick Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation's best collegiate linebacker.
McClain was officially presented the award in the Mal M. Moore Athletic Complex on Tuesday morning by NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus at a news conference. He is the second player in Alabama history to win the award, joining former All-American and Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas in 1988.
"Ro had an outstanding year and the voting was pretty darn close," Butkus said upon presenting McClain with the 2009 Butkus Award. "I am very proud of the selection committee that we have and the job they did. What can I say? His play really speaks for itself.
"It's not only his playing ability, which is quite obvious, but it also entails people in his situation, people look up to him. You should never flinch in the old American tradition of giving back and he has a wonderful opportunity to help other people and I think the selection committee did a great job. This is the right guy."
The 2009 SEC Defensive Player of the Year leads the Crimson Tide with 101 tackles this season, including 12.5 tackles for loss (-58 yards) and four sacks (-36 yards). He also added 14 quarterback pressures, three pass breakups, two interceptions (21 return yards) and forced one fumble.
"This is a surprise," McClain said upon receiving the award. "They did a good job with it. I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Butkus. Two of my teammates (Javier Arenas and Mike Johnson) are here. I'd like to say thank you to my whole team and Coach Saban. When I first got here, I was just an 18-year-old kid running around, trying to learn the system. Thanks to him and a lot of hard work by the other assistant coaches, I guess I turned out to be a pretty good linebacker.
"It means a lot to me, but I think it's bigger than me, it's for my team. Without them I would not get this award. These guys have played hard all year and I am thankful for them. I love the individual award, but I would like nothing more than to see my teammates with a national championship ring. That would be huge. I am sure my mom would be proud. I just want to say thank you again. I am at a loss for words. I never expected this."
A 2009 team captain, McClain anchors an Alabama defense that leads the nation in scoring defense (11.0 ppg) and pass efficiency defense (88.81 rating) and ranks second in rushing defense (77.9 ypg) and total defense (241.69 ypg). The Tide is also seventh nationally in pass defense (177.82 ypg). The Crimson Tide led the SEC in rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense, and ranks second in passing defense.
"I'd like to thank Dick Butkus for having the award," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I think this is a great award. I think what the award represents in terms of playing clean is a great format for making an emphasis of getting people to do things right and setting a good example and setting a good example for young people.
"I think the committee made a great selection in Rolando McClain, not only because he had a great year on the field, but he did a fantastic job for his team and also influenced his teammates in a very positive way by his performance and his production individually was off the charts. So, in every way, from a production performance standpoint, to a leadership standpoint and his contributions to this team's success was as much as anybody on our team. We are really proud of him for that.
"I have every confidence the committee selected the right guy to that as well. This is fine young man, who has represented the University of Alabama in a first-class way, not only as football player on the field, but as a person and as student here at the University and is somebody that always projected a real positive image for young people. We are very pleased and proud and happy for that. So again, Dick, thank you very much."
A three-time national defensive player of the week, McClain recorded double figure tackles against Florida International (10), Kentucky (12), Mississippi State (11) and Auburn (12). In addition to his 12 tackles in a 38-20 win at Kentucky on Oct. 3, McClain was also responsible for three of the Crimson Tide's four takeaways in the game, which resulted in 17 points.
McClain did not know about the award until the last minute on Tuesday, when he was surprised by Saban and Butkus.
"This is a real fun thing we did today," Saban added. "Ro did not know. We were having an interview like we were on and Dick walks in and gives him the award, so he really got surprised and it was a lot fun. We really enjoyed it and I certainly appreciate Javy and Mike coming over to support him. It was real secret for us and a big surprise for Ro and it was a lot fun."