Even at Kirkwood High and the University of Missouri, Jeremy Maclin radiated maturity beyond his years, part of the fusion of his unique persona and the struggles in his own family that led to him being taken in by another.
This was a guy you could learn from, through his words and deeds: in how hard he played, to understanding the importance of teammates, in coming back from devastating injuries, to reconciling it all.
“I don’t regret anything. I think that everything I’ve gone through in my life, everything I’ve done in my life, has shaped me into the man I am today,” he said in an interview with The Star soon after joining the Chiefs in 2015. “So I thank everybody, the good and the bad. I thank everybody for everything they taught me.”
His wisdom is even more evident as he approaches his 29th birthday and wedding next month.
Case in point: When asked Monday, the first day of the Chiefs’ offseason training program, what he’d been up to lately, Maclin’s first words were … “wedding planning.”
And his role in the process?
“Saying yes to everything,” he said, smiling.
Very smart man.
More seriously, Maclin spoke of the excitement of spending the rest of his life with his fiancée, Adia Kuzma.
But beginning his life with her isn’t the only fresh start Maclin is looking forward to.
Not after the most fruitless season of his professional career ended with the Chiefs’ 18-16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
“A very odd season,” Maclin called it.
Even accounting for the fact Maclin missed four-plus games because of a groin injury, his drop-off last year was steep compared to his career-best 2015 season with the Chiefs — from 87 receptions to 44, from 1,088 yards to 536, from eight touchdowns to two.
That injury wasn’t the only challenge for Maclin, though.
While he has not publicly wanted to discuss it, Maclin was distressed early in the season by the unexpected death of Isaiah DeLeon-Mares, a childhood friend he characterized as “my brother” on various social media posts.
To Maclin, though, none of this properly accounts for the season.
“I’m not going to use anything as an excuse,” he said. “To my standards, I didn’t play as well as I could have last year. And that’s just how I feel about it.
“Whether it was (because) I was nicked up or whatever I had going on, at the end of the day this is my job. And I didn’t play as well as I could have.”
The insistence on accountability is another of Maclin’s admirable traits … though it bears mention that there is something fundamentally unfair in this dynamic.
It might be unbecoming for an athlete to let on about all that’s going on physically or mentally with him or her.
But the trap is their performances typically are judged through the expectation that all are healthy in all ways at all times.
“It’s a fine line,” quarterback Alex Smith said, with a knowing smile, later adding, “That’s just the nature of this game, (having) toughness and playing through it and being there for your teammates ….
“Certainly, Jeremy is as tough as they come.”
But if fans and media frequently don’t know all that any given player is dealing with, teammates generally know a lot more.
Which counts for a lot more, too.
Maclin already had a lot of clout in the locker room for his sheer toughness and mentoring nature.
But he may have earned even more by giving all he had even as he had less to give.
“Pushing through a lot, playing through a lot here and there … sucking it up for the team,” as Smith put it.
Still, Smith says he has “reflected a lot” on his diminished connections last year with Maclin … perhaps particularly because they seemed to have instant chemistry in their first season together.
Acknowledging times they didn’t seem to be on the same page, Smith said he knows “we are capable of so much more together.”
He figures last season was a wake-up call to getting back into the fine details more to clean up a lot of little things.
Maclin reckons the same as he considers how many things could have gone differently with the benefit of an inch one place or another.
“Normally, a lot of those things always fall my way,” Maclin said. “And last year maybe they didn’t as much.”
So the last few weeks and the next few months are about getting back to basics: catching more passes after practice; staying the extra 10 minutes in meetings; doing the extra work in the weight room.
“I know it all sounds cliche,” Maclin said. “But I really think that’s the difference between things falling your way and things not falling your way.”
Just like “saying yes to everything” will be in the next few weeks.