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Senior defensive back Jason McCleod Jr. goes to tackle a Columbia wide receiver on the sideline on Oct. 16.

Credit: Nicholas Fernandez

The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with Penn football’s Jason McCleod, Jr. to ask him 15 questions about his career, his time at Penn, and his personal life outside of football. Here is what Jason had to say:

1. Introduce yourself. Who is Jason McCleod, Jr.?

I’m Jason. At this point, some people call me Paul, just cause some like to call me Paul. I’m a senior at Penn, and play defensive back — cornerback more specifically. I am studying political science, and am minoring in music. I’m from South Florida, West Palm Beach.

2. You have just a few minutes left until you take the field. What three songs are you playing to prepare you for the game and what feelings do they evoke?

So, I’m gonna go with “Here I Go” by Mystikal. It’s an older song, but it’s like, the man is right here, here I go. When I get on the field, come to see me. “Nobody Panic” by Ace Hood: it just helps me chill out and calm down — nothing’s gonna happen, you just gotta do what you gotta do. Then “All Talk” by 3ohBlack. My favorite part of the song basically says there’s four people all coming against me, but it’s just me at the end of the day. So same as “Nobody Panic”: don’t do too much and it will all work itself out.

3. Although you didn’t get the result you wanted in your home opener, how did it feel to finally play in Franklin Field on a Friday night after almost two years?

It was a good feeling just to be able to play at home as a senior. It was a great feeling to have that be the first. The last first home game that I'll be playing in Franklin just felt like another home game. It also kind of gave it an extra push that it was an Ivy League matchup, and in such a historic stadium too.

4. What is your favorite memory of playing football in your lifetime?

You know, it was a sad moment, but my last high school game was special. I'm hoping it'll be kind of the same feeling in my last college game. I think that's my favorite memory — just that entire game. Although we did lose, I got an interception which was the best feeling. I felt like I played my heart out. That feeling of feeling like you gave everything you had in you is the best feeling in the world.

5. On the flip side, what is one of your most painful memories in your career?

My worst memory is 2019 versus Columbia. They ran a flea flicker on the first play of the game, and the throw went over my head. They didn’t get a touchdown, but it was still an awful feeling. That means we need to get Columbia back this weekend. I got a bone to pick with them.

6. Who are some of your favorite current NFL players? Is there any defensive back you try to model your game after?

I wouldn't say there's a specific defensive back that I model my game after. I kind of just try to take what I can from who's there. So, Xavier Rhodes, Tyrann Mathieu — even though he's a safety and I play corner, there's kind of that size that he has, or the lack thereof, and I take what I can from him; just playing as hard as you possibly can, and doing everything you can to be better than your opponent. So yes, Tyrann Mathieu, Xavier Rhodes, Xavien Howard, Joe Haden — I like the Cowboys, so Byron Jones — just being athletic and you know, being able to move around. But yes, those are just a few.

7. What part of your game did you work on the most during your time off due to the pandemic and why?

It was mostly strength. I obviously wanted to get bigger. I wanted to get stronger as a corner. I think it's attention to detail, like the little things, so really getting out of my breaks as quickly as possible. That agility that you need to be able to perform at a high level is what I needed because even though I can play press confidently, playing off was something that I needed to improve because there were a lot of times where I wasn't fast enough. So, I guess working on getting my feet under me so I can break as fast as possible and things like that.

8. You told us in the past that your dad played a role in your decision to commit to football at a young age. Could you tell us a bit about your relationship with your dad and the role he’s played in your career?

Yeah, my dad's been around. Just growing up hearing his stories and how he went through football. Like, for example, I'll see him walking around in the mall, and there's some random guy, and it was like a running back from another school that he just knew from playing against each other and becoming friends. So seeing that and hearing his stories are kind of what led me to ultimately love football. Just being around him and seeing his love of football. He kind of just kind of just passed it down to me and it just stuck with me.

9. and 10. What has been the toughest and the most rewarding part of being a student-athlete at Penn?

So the toughest part is the student part: like being able to wake up, go to class, play football, and keep that schedule going consistently. You get tired; some days you're too tired to even go play football and go to class, but you have to because that's the Ivy League degree: you just have to do what you have to do. So, I will say the toughest part is the mental health aspect of it, and the most rewarding is being able to find what helps me mentally. Mental health is definitely something that I have to give credit to for most of my success. You have to find those different techniques and tactics — whether it's meditation, lighting a candle, just chilling, talking to family — that help your mental health. So that’s definitely one of the hardest and most rewarding things: being able to know who you are.

11. You have used words like “family” and “brotherhood” to describe Penn Football. Looking back on your time at Penn, what role has your relationship with your brothers played in your four years here?

They are a huge part of me being me. I definitely feel like I can be myself around them, and with that, I can be the player that I want to be, the player they need me to be. The encouragement and the energy they bring to me, I can bring right back to them, and we just feed off each other as brothers.

12. You are currently in a locker room consisting of almost 60 freshmen and sophomores, many of them being defensive backs like yourself. Being one of the few veterans on the team that had actually played a full season prior to this season, how have you handled this situation? What is the number one piece of advice you have given these guys?

I think we use the inexperience to our advantage. As a freshman or sophomore, you want to get better. You want to be better than whoever is starting at least by your senior year. So, as an “older guy”, you have to take advantage of their drive to be better. When we’re doing different things with the scout team, like special teams, they’re going to give you their all, and you have to encourage that. With time, through their drive to beat you, they’re going to learn how to be better themselves. Some advice I’ve given is just “be you, play your game”: I know some of the new cornerbacks might say “I want to be a zone corner” or “I want to be a man corner”, but I tell them if you want to be both, then be both. There’s nothing stopping you. Other than that, I’ll tell them to always block out anything that’s distracting you from the job at hand; play every play.

13. What is your sales pitch like to a potential recruit for joining Penn?

I don’t really have a pitch, but I would probably go through the different opportunities within the school, like Wharton, Engineering, and the College. I’d probably ask them what they think they want and base it off that. I think we do offer a lot of things that are different from other schools — even the other Ivy Leagues. I would definitely try to highlight those differences and things that make us different. Penn football is one of the top programs in the Ivy League and getting better as the years go. So I’d say come, we’re having fun. It’s a great time.

14. Last year, you told us that you would like to join the Peace Corps and hope to eventually work in a US Embassy. Is this still something you hope to achieve, and what inspired you to pursue this job?

It is definitely something that I’m still looking to achieve. As time goes, I’m also trying to look past that and see what I may want to do after working in a U.S. embassy or Peace Corps. For now, that is still an amazing goal in my life. The inspiration behind it came early. Basically, I started as an international relations major, but then switched to just concentrating in it within my current major. Being in those classes and learning about the international scale of things was important for me because even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do coming into college, I had a goal of being able to help individuals on a wider scale. I guess helping the “smaller people” in different nations, while also helping them to grow by themselves, and not just helping them in the present. You don’t want to just give them water, but also give them a way to get it. Not just fishing for them, but teaching them how to fish. So that’s what I hope I can do within the next few years.

15. Shoutout time: tell us about someone at Penn who has been crucial to your experience here and it just wouldn’t have been the same without them.

I’m going to shoutout two people. I’m going to shoutout Faith Brown from PENNCAP. I love Faith. She is just a very exciting person: a second mother. She has this amazing energy all the time, is very encouraging, and helped me with everything I had to do in school. And then, Tanya Jung, my undergraduate advisor. This is another great person; just great energy, also helped me with almost everything I had to do, especially with classes, and was always there for me whenever I needed it. So those are two amazing women that I truly appreciate.