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Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus tweeted a graphic with the question, "Best Linebacker returning to CFB?"

The top five players in its rankings were Washington's Edefaun Ulofoshio, LSU's Mike Jones Jr., Troy's Carlton Martial, Nebraska's JoJo Domann and Indiana's Micah McFadden.

Auburn football senior Zakoby McClain's name was not mentioned. You won't find it anywhere on PFF's top returning players list, which features 11 linebackers plus two more names to watch.

Someone tagged McClain in a reply to that tweet. His response: "Nobody cares bout what people behind computers think."

McClain is paying attention to what those people are saying, though. He's seen every list that doesn't have his name on it. He hasn't forgotten about being left off last season's All-SEC team.

"It just gives me more motivation," McClain said during the spring. "I've got a chip on my shoulder to just keep going harder and harder."

You can't blame one of the heroes of Auburn's 2019 Iron Bowl win for being angry. The league's coaches voted six linebackers onto the first- and second-team all-conference defenses. McClain led the SEC and tied for first nationally with 113 tackles in his first season as a starter and wasn't one of them.

He was one of only two of the linebackers who ranked top-15 nationally in tackles who didn't earn all-conference honors. The other was Kentucky's Jamin Davis, who made up for that slight by getting selected 19th overall by the Washington Football Team in April's NFL draft.

Of course, it's difficult to argue with any of the six linebackers who did earn All-SEC recognition. Missouri's Nick Bolton, Alabama's Dylan Moses and Arkansas' Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool all recorded at least 80 tackles. Alabama's Christopher Allen led the league with 13 tackles for loss and Georgia's Azeez Ojulari with 8½ sacks.

But that won't stop McClain from feeling like he got snubbed after recording 5½ tackles for loss, three sacks, a pass breakup and a forced fumble to go along with his league-leading tackle total.

"It hurt a little they didn’t give me any award last year," he said.

So McClain will be going after one this year. His ultimate goal has always been to play in the NFL, but one of the reasons he decided to return for his senior season is because he believes "there is more to accomplish."

He's off to a good start — Athlon named him a first-team preseason All-SEC linebacker in May, and the Lott IMPACT Trophy named him to the 2021 watchlist on Tuesday.

McClain put in the work this offseason. First-year inside linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding told him during their first meeting that there were things he felt the linebacker could improve about his body, which led him to packing on eight pounds to get closer to 220.

"I feel a lot better," McClain said. "I’ve got my same speed still. I’m still hitting on contact, but I don’t feel as much since I’ve gained my weight."

He's also playing in a new defensive system in which he could excel even more than he has so far in his career, which includes a game-changing 100-yard pick six against Alabama.

Coordinator Derek Mason's 3-4 scheme is designed to funnel the opposing offense to the middle of the field, where McClain and fellow returning starter Owen Pappoe will be waiting. And after being responsible for only one gap in Kevin Steele's 4-3 scheme, they'll now be asked to handle two, meaning there could be more plays for them to make.

"Me and Zakoby, we're champing at the bit right now," Pappoe said. "The run fits that we see right now — I'm just gonna say it, it's gonna be something crazy this year."

An A-Day performance in which McClain led the first-team defense with five tackles to go along with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup may have offered only a taste of what is to come.

This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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