Second-generation Bulldog finally makes own mark

Updated: October 22, 2003, 2:37 AM ET

ATLANTA -- Bryan McClendon was in seventh grade when his father agreed to race one last time.

They headed to the street in front of their Atlanta home -- the former football star and his brash son.

"Growing up, we were always messing with each other about who was faster," Bryan said. "He beat me that day -- barely. That was the last time we raced. He told me I was getting too close."

Well, the son is still chasing the father.

Willie McClendon was a star running back for Georgia in the 1970s, gaining 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior for the "Wonder Dogs." He went on to play four years in the NFL, backing up a guy named Walter Payton with the Chicago Bears.

The younger McClendon traced his father's footsteps to Georgia, but he's still got a ways to go before he catches the old man.

Bryan spent most of his time on the bench until last week, when he finally got a chance to start after injuries and disciplinary problems depleted the receiving corps.

McClendon made the most of it: six catches for 108 yards as the fourth-ranked Bulldogs overcame a sluggish start to beat Vanderbilt 27-8.

"I had been praying for a chance," he said. "I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity."

It wasn't all fun and games. After McClendon's first catch, a 37-yarder, he hopped off the turf and defiantly crossed his arms across the chest. Out came the yellow flag. Georgia headed 15 yards the other way for unsportsmanlike conduct.

But McClendon redeemed himself in the second half, making two key receptions on Georgia's first touchdown drive.

"As the game went on, he continued to make plays and we gained more and more confidence in him," coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. "He was a big boost to our offense."

McClendon was born a year after his father left the NFL, but the youngster has gotten a sense of what he missed.

"I've seen a few tapes of him playing," Bryan said. "I could see he was a real good football player. That's why I look up to him so much. He's been where I want to go."

Willie McClendon didn't push his son to play football, keeping him off the field until middle school. Not surprisingly, he proved to be natural.

At May High School, Bryan did a little bit of everything: running, receiving, playing defense. He arrived at Georgia with all-encompassing "athlete" label -- a player without a position.

Mindful of his boy's diminutive stature, Willie McClendon advised Bryan not to attempt running back.

"That's a physically demanding position, and Bryan couldn't be more than 180 pounds soaking wet," Willie McClendon said. "His body type really wasn't conducive to being a running back."

After starting out in the secondary, Bryan wound up as a receiver. A famous name didn't guarantee playing time for this second-generation Bulldog, however. McClendon's contributions as a freshman were minimal -- five receptions for 90 yards.

He wore his father's number (36) that first season, but only because his high school number (16) was already being used by quarterback Cory Phillips. With Phillips gone, Bryan switched back to 16 this season.

"It was a nice gesture to wear my number," his father said. "But I was happy he made the decision to go back to 16. It's not about me."

During the offseason, Bryan McClendon and four teammates were busted for having marijuana in a dorm room, resulting in a two-game suspension.

"When you do the crime, you've got to do the time," McClendon said. "My father wasn't too bad. He told me the normal parental things. The worst thing was what my grandma had to say."

When the sophomore got back on the field, he failed to make a catch in his first three games. The problem was depth -- too much of it. Fred Gibson, Michael Johnson, Damien Gary and Reggie Brown were all experienced and ahead of McClendon.

"I was definitely frustrated," he said. "I was like, 'Man, when are some of these guys going to leave so I can get a chance to do what they're doing."

The chance finally came. Gibson and Johnson didn't make the trip to Vandy because of injuries. Gary was demoted to the second team for disciplinary reasons, clearing the way to McClendon to start.

Based on the way he played against the Commodores, he will likely keep the job for another week. The Bulldogs (6-1) host UAB (3-4) in their homecoming game Saturday.

"We knew what kind of ability he has," quarterback David Greene said. "He stepped up in the game and proved to other people what he could do."

But McClendon still hasn't beaten his dad -- and he won't get the chance.

"I retired the champ," Willie said proudly.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index