Andy O’Brien, Assistant Editor
“I played 16 years in the NFL, and it all started right here,” said Fred McAfee as he addressed the audience at the Mississippi College Athletics Dinner on Oct. 23. “I never thought I could love a place this much.”
The fundraising dinner drew about 500 Choctaw sports fans, supporters, and alumni, and raised $170,000. The athletic department has seen many changes as MC returns to Division II, and with change comes cost. Additional staff members have been added, a field house was constructed for the baseball team, and a video board was added at the football stadium.
The Choctaw record books are still stamped with McAfee’s name, despite nearly 25 years of football since the running back graduated from the university. He amassed 4,416 yards and 38 touchdowns at MC, leading his team to two GSC championships and the 1989 Division II National Championship.
After graduating from college, McAfee was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 154th overall pick. After three years with the Saints, he played with the Arizona Cardinals briefly before spending five years with the Pittsburg Steelers. During his time with Pittsburg, McAfee played in Super Bowl XXX. He eventually came back to the Saints, where he was a pro-bowl special teams player in 2002.
His NFL career finally concluded after the 2006 season, but he was not yet done with football. The Saints had enjoyed the locker room presence of the veteran, and they weren’t ready to let McAfee go. He has served as the director of Player Personnel since, helping players adjust to life in the NFL.
McAfee was raised in Philadelphia, Miss. and his primary sport was pole vaulting. “I was a nerd,” said McAfee, “I was in beta club, French club, even home economics.” McAfee won two state championships at pole vaulting. He was involved with the football team throughout high school, but not on the field. “I was a manager,” said McAfee, “I was the water boy.”
While working the sidelines for the Philadelphia High School football team, he watched his cousin play running back. That cousin was Marcus Dupree, one of the most heavily recruited football players in history. Standing at 6’2”, 220 pounds, Dupree was a terror on the high school gridiron. He would go on to play at the University of Oklahoma, showered with awards after his freshman year.
“As a kid I watched Dupree. Those guys were superheroes to me, and I washed their jockstraps,” said McAfee.
In the middle of his sophomore year, Dupree became a cautionary tale to McAfee. After injuries derailed his season, Dupree left OU and never had the collegiate or NFL career that so many thought that he was destined for.
McAfee was hesitant to join the football team, because he felt that he was undersized. Having a six-foot two-inch cousin as a role model didn’t help. But after success on the track team and a pole vaulting state championship, he was finally recruited to play for the football team.
“All I knew was running back, that’s all I wanted to be.” said McAfee. “I hated hitting people; I just wanted to run from them.”
His smaller build soon proved to be an advantage, as he paired his speed with elusiveness that terrorized his Mississippi high school opponents. “I’m not as big as some of the running backs you have,” McAfee would later tell a coach at MC, “but they can’t catch me.”
Soon, it became time for McAfee to choose a college. He didn’t have the same options as his cousin, but a visit to Mississippi College proved to be life changing. After growing up with nine brothers and sisters, McAfee was impressed with the food services at MC. Visiting campus for the first time, he was served steak, a food he had not yet had the privilege of trying. After finishing his first steak, he was offered another, and he could not refuse. After seeing campus, and enjoying its spoils, McAfee’s mind was made up. He would play college football with the Choctaws.
It was a decision that he would not regret. “I had the greatest college experience right here, in Clinton, Miss.”
Nearly 25 years after graduating from the university, McAfee hasn’t forgotten his Alma Mater. He has spoken at benefit dinners and watched football games from the press box.
“I have played for Sean Payton, Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Tony Dungee, but the staff at MC means more to me than any of them.” said McAfee. “They always encouraged me, even though I was undersized. They saw I had heart, and with enough heart, you can do anything.”