AuburnSports - 'Jackrabbit' Zakoby McClain breaking out for Auburn defense
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'Jackrabbit' Zakoby McClain breaking out for Auburn defense

Zakoby McClain is used to the nicknames and labels. He was referred to as a "heat-seeking missile" by head coach Gus Malzahn during McClain's signing day, and linebackers coach Travis Williams went as far as to claim the sophomore is the type to "fight a chainsaw."

So it's no surprise that, after the best outing of McClain's one-and-a-half seasons on the Plains, another moniker of praise was bestowed upon him.

Todd Van Emst / Auburn Athletics
Todd Van Emst / Auburn Athletics

"Zakoby is crazy. Coach Steele nicknamed him ‘jackrabbit,'" Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown said Tuesday. "He flies around everywhere. No matter if it’s camp, practice or if it’s practice during the season or if it’s the game, he just shows us that he’s hungry. It’s been that way ever since he’s been here.

"That’s just something he’s never let it go, and I hope he never lets it go because that defines his game completely."

McClain had the signature game of his brief time with the Tigers in Auburn's 24-13 loss to Florida in The Swamp, notching a career-high 10 tackles and a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss.

“He had a good game," Malzahn said of McClain. "He’s playing well on special teams too. You see him growing every game he’s out there. He really can break on a ball. He’s a good tackler and a physical player too.”

As a true freshman last year McClain saw limited action behind the Tigers' three senior linebackers and the immediate backups, like K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten. He tallied just four tackles on the year, all of which came in non-Power-5 contests.

Now as a sophomore, McClain is breaking out for a loaded Auburn linebacking corps. He's fourth on the team in tackles with 26 — more than Marlon Davidson or Brown, and has the second-most of the linebackers behind Britt.

McClain (35) has 14 tackles in SEC play compared to eight through the first three games.
McClain (35) has 14 tackles in SEC play compared to eight through the first three games. (Robin Conn/

His quick instincts and burst to the backfield — like a missile — have helped Auburn rack up 45 tackles for loss this season, which is good for the 15th-most in college football.

"He put on a lot of weight, and in the film room he also — you can tell his mind developed a lot from a freshman to a sophomore," safety Daniel Thomas said of McClain earlier this season. "He's made a lot of plays for us, so I’m looking forward to seeing him getting better as well.”

As one of the faster and more aggressive defenders on the team — hence, the nicknames — McClain is still a heavy contributor on specials teams, as well. He earned Malzahn's special-teams helmet sticker for Week 5 after accounting for the fourth of Auburn's nine forced fumbles this year in the win over Mississippi State.

When McClain makes a big play, he's one of the most animated celebrators on the team, staying fired up all the way back to the sidelines.

But he's still that humble youngster who's just happy to be contributing.

"I'm just playing my role," McClain said last month. "Coming in, making plays when I need to."