LAKE FOREST – Stephen Paea was the first player to notice the mistake.
The Bears had kicked off their second game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings in front of 60,000-plus fans at Soldier Field and countless more people watching on TV. And as Paea glanced toward his friend and teammate, Shea McClellin, he quickly spotted a spelling error on the back of his buddy’s throwback jersey.
McCELLIN – 99.
Whoops. The first “L” in McClellin’s last name was missing.
“He thought I was kidding,” Paea said Wednesday with a laugh.
“He was like, ‘That’s messed up!’ ” Paea said, still laughing.
McClellin, 24, is working hard to make a name for himself no matter how it is spelled. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end remained on the field long after practice Wednesday as he worked on pass-rush moves alongside teammate Corey Wootton.
The drill was repetitive but impressive as McClellin abused a blue padded dummy. First, he would plant his weight on his left leg and burst right. Then, he would plant his weight on his right leg and burst left. All along, he would wind his arm and whack the dummy with a thud that echoed through the cavernous Walter Payton Center.
When McClellin finally had finished his drill, I was ready to ask him a few questions.
But the former Boise State star had more work to do.
“I’ve got to go lift,” he said in a tone that was polite but firm.
If McClellin emerges as a more complete player this season, now you know why.
Teammates already were well aware of McClellin’s relentless work ethic, which helped him to become the Bears’ first-round pick (No. 19 overall) of the 2012 NFL draft. Yet while McClellin showed glimpses of greatness as a rookie, he also endured long quiet spells and finished the season with only 2½ sacks and seven tackles in 14 games.
So far, McClellin’s hard work has paid off in his second year. He teamed up with Paea to sack Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 1, and he has registered two tackles in each of his two games after finishing only one game last season with two tackles.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” said linebacker James Anderson, an eight-year veteran. “He’s doing a better job than me in my second year. I was still trying to figure things out. He seems to have a great grasp. You can see him making plays. You can see him out there playing free and being comfortable. It’s good to see.”
Maybe this week, McClellin can make those plays with his name properly spelled.
“I can’t spell his name to begin with,” Anderson said.
It turned out that Anderson was not alone.
Their day complete, a few Bears played along during an impromptu spelling bee.
Go ahead, Craig Steltz. Try to spell McClellin’s last name.
“Oh, I have no idea,” Steltz said with a smile.
What about you, Eben Britton?
“M-c-C,” Britton said.
He stopped. When he started again, he pointed his finger as if he were writing.
“M, lower case c,” Britton said. “Capital C, l-e-l-l-i-n.”
Paea also spelled McClellin’s name correctly, which made sense given the fact that he was the one who noticed the spelling mistake during Sunday’s game.
Not bad for a guy who grew up in Tonga on the island of Vav’u.
“English was my second language,” said Paea, who moved to the U.S. as a teenager. “I always had to be a good speller in school so I didn’t get made fun of, you know?”
McClellin remained in the weight room, so he wasn’t around to enjoy the conversation. Even if he had been, he probably would not have uttered a word.
“Shea is quiet,” Britton said. “He’s not a guy that’s a big talker. He puts his nose to the grindstone. He just comes in every day and works his [butt] off.”
Forget the throwback jersey. The Bears have a throwback football player.
And he sounds like a winner.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @tcmusick.