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In His Words
'Every little boy’s dream is to play in the NFL or something to that extent'
By Kaleb McGary May 20, 2020
Photographs By The Atlanta Falcons

Boy, it was probably in the third grade.

My parents watched pro football a lot growing up. There was always a game on TV and I'd watch it with them, but I was a kid. I didn't really get anything about it. One day, I was watching and decided I wanted to try it because it looked like fun. I asked my dad if I could sign up and, of course, he did not argue.

Within a matter of moments, I was signed up for the next season with CCYF, which is the youth league down where I'm from. I've been playing ever since.



The Dream

Every little boy's dream is to play in the NFL or something to that extent.

Truth be told, it wasn't really something I considered a reality for me until junior year of college. I was just playing football. I didn't see much point in considering it because it seemed like such a far off into the distance kind of thing.

For a long time, I just wasn't worried about it. Mentally, I was worried about trying to be present where I was. My biggest concern was being a good teammate and a player for my brothers at U Dub [University of Washington] while I was there.

It didn't really feel like a legitimate thing until senior year of college when people were saying, "Yeah, you're going to go, man. Here it is."



The Process

My experiences at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine kind of made my shot at the NFL more realistic. Mostly they were miserable, but they were also fun.

The Senior Bowl was very nerve wrecking for me because there were top draft picks there. I felt like a nobody.

There were few articles on me as a tackle, most of them thought I was ass as at the position. The people grading me graded me relatively poorly or not as well as others at the very least, but I wanted to prove myself.

One of the best parts about that experience were the friendships I made. I had a ton of fun with Chris Lindstrom and the other guys there. We just hung out, told jokes and were offensive linemen together.

It was really cool. Some of that is kind of unique to being an offensive lineman. We're not the most glorious position, but there's just some stuff that only comes to us by way of relationships.

The combine was intimidating because now, we were faced with higher scrutiny from coaches. We were under the microscope even further.

I was definitely a little more confident there because I know the kind of athlete I am for my size. It's not every day that a 6-foot-7, 317-pounder can jump 30-some inches into the air.

I was still nervous because I knew it was make or break in the last stretch, but having Chris and a bunch of my other buddies from the Senior Bowl there made it better.

I was warned quite a bit from former teammates and my agents, so I had an idea of what to expect. I was prepared for the misery of going to bed at midnight and getting up at 5 am every day, but to be honest, I kind of enjoyed it.

I worked my whole life to get to this point and I had made it. I was enjoying the opportunity and happy to be there. I was there to do my best and see what happened.



On the clock

I'm not a particularly superstitious person. I didn't have a ritual. It was a very calm, unexciting day.

Of course, I was stressed out as all hell, but I just hung out with my family. They came to the apartment I was living in in Seattle and spent the day with me there. My agents came over later to join us.

I was stressed out the entire time, but my family was pretty good about trying not to add to it.

I knew the Falcons were looking for a lineman and when they took Chris, I sent Scott Pioli a text congratulating him on that pick. I knew Chris was a great guy and a great player. They made an excellent choice. Personally, I thought it was going to be me, but it was awesome. I was very happy for them and Chris.

I kind of thought it was weird when I saw the Falcons trade up. I thought they were coming for a defensive back or a defensive lineman. I absolutely did not think that they were trading up for me. When I got the call, I was in disbelief. I had no idea it was going to happen. Absolutely no idea.

Honestly, I didn't think I was getting drafted when I got called. We figured, if I was going to go in the first round, the teams that seemed most interested in me were either middle to early or middle to late. 14-17 or 20-25 were the teams with picks that we thought might take me.

When we got to pick 29-30, we were starting to pack up. We were just watching to see if anybody from U Dub got called in the last few. Then it happened. They traded up and they took me.

The first thing I did once I hung up the phone was hug my mom. I told her that I did it.

It was one of the best feelings I have ever had. It is probably the best day of my life to date, or one of the best. It was awesome.

The feeling that I had done something significant and achieved something for myself, my family, the communities that I'm from and the people in my life, I felt like I had really done something for everybody who played a part in my journey to get there.

To be able to celebrate with my family in that moment, honestly, is kind of indescribable. They were really happy. Or at least they faked it well.

It was pure joy. I hope everyone gets to feel that type of joy someday, somehow.

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Of course, me and Chris being friends, finding out we got drafted together was the coolest shit ever. Let me tell you what, that was awesome. He was definitely one of the first phone calls I made that night.

He is a pretty good dude. He's stuck with me as a friend for the rest of his days. I hope he realizes what he got himself into when he decided he was going to be friends with me, because he's stuck with me now.



Welcome to Atlanta

Waking up the next morning knowing I was an Atlanta Falcon was surreal. It was hard to believe that I had actually done it.

It's just amazing. I actually got drafted to one of the teams I was hoping to get drafted to. That's another aspect to it. Atlanta was one of the few teams that I was secretly hoping for.

Flying into Atlanta to tour the facilities was pretty cool. I know I keep saying it, but that's the best way I have to describe it.

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I don't have anything to compare getting on a billionaire's private jet with. If you find something to compare that to, please let me know because I will gladly give it a shot.

It took a long time to get over the starstruck phase of things. It probably took two thirds of the season for me to get over, looking around in the huddle and just being amazed at the people that I was standing there with.

It was mostly the fact that I was good enough to be in the huddle with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Alex Mack and Jake Matthews. These were guys that I watched as recently as college. We watched film on lots of pro teams. We watched a lot of Falcons film because the schemes at U Dub were very similar.

It was crazy to me that I was actually there. I grew up watching Matt Ryan on TV and now I'm in the huddle with him. How often does that kind of shit happen? Sometimes in the cafeteria, I'll sit down and we'll have lunch together or something. Fucking crazy. It took quite a while for me to get over that.

I'm not sure that I'm totally over it, but it sounds better if I say that I am.

I love to complain, and I have nothing to complain about. I got drafted to a city with a friend of mine [Chris] and we became really good friends over the past year.

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Dream realized

My draft experience was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in my life. It's only second to buying my parents a house. I was able to do that because I was drafted, so it kind of goes hand in hand.

The day that I could call my parents and tell them, "Start looking at a house because you're done living in an RV," was pretty cool. Hearing how happy my siblings and parents are living in an actual house again, it's pretty incredible.

That is a feeling that few people ever get … to be able to buy their parents a house. I was blessed enough to be able to do it and that was an incredible feeling.

Before heading into the 2020 NFL year, we are going to look back at the best images from players on the active roster. Take a look at the best of tackle Kaleb McGary.

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