Former Mississippi State defensive end Pernell McPhee watches from the sideline during a game with the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Mel Evans, AP)
The road to the Super Bowl can only be achieved through hard work.
Pernell McPhee has that aspect covered.
Throughout his high school, junior college, major college and National Football League career, McPhee has used that plan to reach each level.
The former defensive lineman for Itawamba Community College and Mississippi State realizes a dream on Sunday when he takes the field at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., for the Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
"It's a blessing," McPhee said. "A lot of guys don't make it this far and I'm really excited, not only to play in the Super Bowl, but to play at this level.
"It's been crazy and a roller coaster ride. I've been through a lot of things and fought through a lot of things. It's been all fun since I've been here."
McPhee's journey on the gridiron started at Pahokee High School in Florida. In only one season of prep play, McPhee led the Muckers to a 14-0 record and the Class 2B State championship.
After signing with Southern Mississippi out of high school, McPhee decided to take a detour to the north and ended up in Fulton with coach Jeff Terrill at Itawamba Community College.
Terrill, who is now the coach at Starkville Academy, remembers what McPhee was like when he arrived with the Indians.
"As a true freshman, he was under 200 pounds," Terrill said. "He started off as a five-technique and pass rush end for us. He finished about 230 pounds the first year. He got up to 250 his sophomore year."
McPhee became a two-time junior college All-American at ICC and started getting attention from schools such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas State and West Virginia.
Mississippi State was the school to claim his services and he continued to develop under the leadership of head coach Dan Mullen and defensive line coach David Turner in his junior season.
Turner, who recently returned to the Bulldogs after a stint as the defensive line coach at Kentucky, was glad to be able to teach McPhee for one season.
"His work ethic was good and he just handled his business," Turner said. "I was lucky here to have an opportunity to coach him."
Before his time at MSU was done, McPhee was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection by the league coaches and finished with 88 total tackles for his career.
He also increased his weight to 285 pounds.
"It's been a lot of fun to watch him progress athletically," Terrill said. "He bloomed on up at State and everybody saw what he did there. He was always a hard-working, good technique and great-effort kid. We're awful proud of him."
McPhee thanked Terrill for his instruction and keeping him on the right path.
"People like coach Terrill kept me humble," McPhee said. "I met a lot great people there (at ICC). It was the whole experience of meeting nice people. You really don't get that opportunity.
"I'm just looking forward to representing the Bulldogs and the Indians (at the Super Bowl)."
After his two years at MSU, McPhee was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Ravens.
During his rookie season in Baltimore, McPhee made 23 tackles in 16 games. He had six sacks which was second on the team, two pass deflections, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Even though a thigh injury has caused him to miss four games this season, McPhee still has 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 12 games played with six starts.
McPhee considers it a privilege to play alongside a future Hall of Fame like Ray Lewis. Sunday will be the last game for the retiring Lewis.
"It's been exciting and a great experience," McPhee said. "(Lewis') emotion is his energy. He can be calm and chilled, but when he gets to speaking and he starts hitting people, it creates energy through all of us."
When the Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers, McPhee will see former MSU teammate Anthony Dixon on the other side.
If Dixon gets a chance to play for the 49ers, he has let it be known that he plans to do the "Dawg Pound Rock" dance if he gets a big play or scores a touchdown.
McPhee is going to try and prevent that from happening.
"We're enemies right now," McPhee said. "If I get the opportunity on the field, I'm going to try and bust him up. I know he's going to try and bust me up."
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