Gargantuan Curtis eager to continue UTC’s recent Senior Bowl pipeline

UTC Athletics photo / Former Central High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive lineman McClendon Curtis will be competing in Senior Bowl practices this week leading up to Saturday afternoon’s game on the NFL Network.

Following a University at Tennessee at Chattanooga football practice on Nov. 16, 2021, Mocs offensive lineman Cole Strange was presented an invitation to the prestigious Senior Bowl.

McClendon Curtis remembers the moment well.

"When the NFL scouts started coming to see Cole, they were asking a little about me," Curtis said. "When Cole got the Senior Bowl invite, literally everybody in the program looked at me and were like, 'You've got to get it, too.' Especially the coaches, and I think that helped motivate me."

For the second time in as many years, UTC will be represented in the premier showcase for college football talent. The 6-foot-6, 334-pound former Central High standout who won last season's Jacobs Blocking Award as the top offensive lineman in the Southern Conference will go through practices Tuesday through Thursday in Mobile, Alabama, before competing in Saturday afternoon's game.

The Senior Bowl has a 2:30 Eastern start and will be televised by the NFL Network.

"To have two offensive linemen in two consecutive years go to the Senior Bowl is huge," Mocs coach Rusty Wright said, "and it just goes to show that you can give yourself an opportunity from anywhere."

Curtis received his Senior Bowl invitation this past November and already has accepted an offer to attend the NFL Scouting Combine, which will take place from Feb. 27 to March 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The only previous Mocs players to compete in the Senior Bowl and receive a combine invitation during the same draft cycle have been defensive end Keionta Davis in 2017 and Strange last winter.

Davis went undrafted in 2017 after a bulging disc was discovered at the combine, but he made the 53-man roster of the New England Patriots as a free agent and in the 2018 season was a member of their Super Bowl LIII championship team. The former Red Bank High product was in the NFL through 2019.

Strange was selected by the Patriots last April as the 29th overall pick, becoming the first UTC player ever to be taken in the first round, and he started all 17 games his rookie season at left guard.

"I always ask Cole questions about what to expect the NFL teams asking me," Curtis said. "Obviously you want to have good practices, because there are guys out there who are for sure draft guys. Then there are guys like me. I'm not going to say I'm unsure about being drafted, but I have to prove I belong."

Versatility was Strange's top strength entering last year's Senior Bowl, and it's the same for Curtis, who racked up 49 career appearances for the Mocs with 38 starts. Of those starts, 30 occurred at right guard, one at left guard and seven at left tackle, with all seven of those coming this past season when the Mocs allowed just nine sacks in 10 games against FCS opposition.

Curtis, a three-time SoCon first-team selection, prefers right guard but will play wherever he's needed.

"He's a big, long, strong guy," Wright said, "and I think him having to play tackle for us really opened up some things for him. People can see that he can move and hold up out there, and it shows that you're a smart guy if you can go from one to the other."

Curtis was much more than an offensive lineman during his six years at UTC. He graduated with a degree in Sport Management in May 2021 and has since worked on a master's in School/Teacher Leadership.

He served as a tutor in UTC's Student-Athlete Enhancement Center and was selected to the NCAA's Football Oversight Committee in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

When there has been free time, McClendon loves to cook, as evidenced by his "Whippin' Wit Curt" Instagram page.

His preferred meal to prepare? Tomahawk steak with twice-baked potatoes and Parmesan-crusted asparagus.

"I watched my dad when I was growing up," Curtis said. "He would always be in the kitchen making stuff. When I was in my sophomore year in college, when you're kind of on your own, I just started playing around. People would say, 'You should sell food,' so I started selling food on campus.

"It started simple, like making pasta and fried chicken, but then I took it up a step and started mixing and matching every week. I can do everything in the kitchen pretty much, and I try to cook as often as I can, which is like three to four times a week."

Curtis won't hit that average this week due to the practices and the meetings with NFL teams, and he certainly won't be spending any time on the various draft projections. In the last week alone, he has been pegged as a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks ( and a sixth-round selection of the Minnesota Vikings (

"I'm so unaware of how all that stuff works," he said. "I'll go on social media, and there will be another notification of a mock draft. I'll be like, 'OK,' and then I'll go back to working hard. I don't get caught up in that, because anything can happen."

A lot has happened since Curtis started playing for the Brainerd Bills youth team as a 5-year-old on the Brainerd High baseball field, and if Strange can ascend all the way to the NFL as a 2016 UTC two-star signee, why can't Curtis as a 2017 UTC two-star signee?

"It's kind of crazy when you look back at it, because you're not really realizing or thinking you can make it this far," Curtis said. "When I first got into football, I was really a defensive lineman. When you're that young, you do whatever your coach says.

"For me, it's really been fun just to enjoy this journey. I didn't know I would get to this point. I just worked hard and tried to be the best I could be."

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