Former Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb finished his four-year college career with 2,586 yards rushing, 24 rushing touchdowns and a 6.4 yard/rush average. McCalebb added 63 receptions for 620 yards and three touchdowns, while returning 53 kickoffs with a 25.7 yard average, including an 83-yard touchdown and 100-yard score. Yet when the NFL draft came and went in 2013, he found himself as an undrafted free agent that the Cincinnati Bengals signed. And when Cincinnati officially signed him on May 1, 2013, they ditched the idea of him playing running back and decided to use his speed at cornerback.
McCalebb had to start over.
"Some nights I cried because it was like I was starting all over again," McCalebb said via the Auburn Plainsman. "All my life I played running back, so it was like I went back to playing little league football."
Though he has the skill-set to cover the team's best receivers, he wasn't feeling comfortable with the dramatic position change. Bengals defensive coach Mark Carrier worked with him one-on-one a lot. The young running back turned cornerback also reached out to former Auburn teammates like T'Sharvan Bell.
"I called him and was like, ‘I’m going to need your help because I don’t know what I’m doing out there,’" McCalebb said. "After the whole process of practicing and stuff like that, it’s really stressful, so you need someone like that who has played the position before."
As the story goes, former Texas A&M quarterback turned Bengals cornerback Ken Riley reached out and they trained together before Cincinnati's training camp in 2013.
"We met every morning and we trained, and he showed me some pointers with back pedaling," McCalebb said. "When I first started I thought I was going to tear both of my ACLs because I’m not used to running backwards, but when I got used to, it I told myself I can guard anybody."
McCaleeb improved. Bengals cornerback Terence Newman was impressed with his progress.
"You can see now that he's understanding, that's he's more comfortable and doing less thinking. It's a good feeling when you see a kid and you see the light go on," said Newman via FoxSportsOhio.com last September. "One thing that I know about football is that if you don't have a guy who is a true guy, who's going to shoot you straight and tell you that was horse (manure) or keep it real and tell you that was a good job, if you don't have a guy that can keep it real with you it's going to be hard to actually get better. You need somebody who understands it and who's going to shoot you straight and tell you this is what you've got to do. It makes it that much easier."
Lewis praised him.
"From the time that he came back here, when we opened for training camp, he looked more like a guy that had played cornerback his whole life," said Lewis during the team's presser Monday afternoon. "He spent time with Ken Riley and it was great. And the time that both the coaches and players have spent with him has been great. He wants so bad to be able to make it."
Now? He's confident enough to claim a spot on the 53-man roster.
"I love football so much so it feels like I’ve been off for a long time now," McCalebb said. "I told (Carrier) I can’t wait to get back because somebody on the team is going to hate me because somebody is not going to be playing and I’m going to be playing."