After a heart scare, Kendall McCallum found a true home in Baton Rouge
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Like any other mother, Veronica Dark has some trepidation about her son leaving for college. More specifically, crossing state lines to play football at LSU.
Her son, Kendall McCallum, is one of two linebackers committed in the Tigers’ 2019 recruiting class, and the only one expected to sign his national letter of intent with the out-of-state program on Wednesday when the early signing period gets underway.
As if the organic stress of being a mother readying to say goodbye to her son wasn’t enough, a phone call in mid-October did her no favors.
Oxford (Ala.) High School football coach Ryan Herring called Dark to inform her that McCallum was experiencing chest pains. She remained level-headed, for the most part, because McCallum dealt with similar problems growing up. With a scholarship to LSU and a future in football hanging in the balance, Dark realized there was a real possibility McCallum might not be able to pursue his passion.
“I pretty much knew what was going on when I got the call. I didn’t think it was too serious to make his chest hurt, though,” Dark told Tiger Details. “It wound up being about not having what he needed on hand. I knew he’d come through, but we used extra precaution to make sure he was fine with the chest pains and all.”
Dark stayed level-headed, but McCallum was much more uneasy about the whole situation. He knew he had childhood asthma, but it had been absent from his life for so long that he didn’t foresee it resurfacing ever again.
Even the slightest fear that there was a heart issue led to multiple visits to the doctors, including a series of tests to ensure his future in football was not in jeopardy.
“It was definitely a thought,” McCallum admitted. “When it first happened, I just kept faith and I knew I’d be able to play again.”
“It was shocking,” he added of the asthma returning. “I never thought something like that would just come back.”
McCallum underwent a full day of invasive heart tests in the hospital. Doctors kept in touch with his parents and his coach at Oxford, who both relayed updates to the LSU staff.
While Dark remained confident the chest pain stemmed from only an asthma scare, she kept her fingers crossed that Wednesday in the hospital. Dark remained as confident as a mother could. As optimistic as she was, Dark was tasked with keeping Coach Ed Orgeron grounded throughout the day.
After all, McCallum’s future in college football were certainly at risk.
“That was the reason we went extra with it and we did what we did,” Dark said. “We made sure he went through everything to make sure he wouldn’t have this in the future.”
McCallum was sidelined for four games, and upon his return, playing sparingly in his first game back. Even that was enough to gas the 6-foot-3, 235-pound middle linebacker fresh off a month of hospital visits and prescribed relaxation.
Missing four games of his senior season was painful enough, but the threat of losing football shed light on McCallum over the final Friday nights of the season.
“I was tired. I was out of shape. It just opened my eyes that football can be taken away from you at any point in your life,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted anymore. I play every play as hard as I can.”
That is perhaps why Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are so anxious for the Alabama linebacker to get on campus. McCallum last visited in the spring and will return in January for his official visit -- after he signs with LSU on Wednesday at the start of the early signing period.
The staff wants McCallum to visit alone to get added one-on-one with the 3-star prospect. He has become a priority for the coaches, who have consistently proven as much to his family even in the most stressful of times.
“They were running tests and they stayed in contact. They did really good,” Dark said. “I was really impressed. They kept calling and checking in with me, checking in with him, calling his dad, making sure everything was good. They called the school and they called his coach and all.”
Both Orgeron and Aranda each went in-home with McCallum and his family during the Contact Period in December. The linebacker received two visits, including one before the family departed for Montgomery to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game.
The conversation, at times, was about football, but Orgeron steered it toward life in Baton Rouge and joining a second family at LSU.
“It’s not been all about football, more how they’re going to take me, getting me comfortable and my parents comfortable with me going to another state,” McCallum said. “They’re pretty much letting me know they’ll be there whenever I need them to come to them as if I was one of their children. My parents feel good about that.”
“I enjoyed both visits we had,” Dark added. “They spoke on a lot of things -- what he would be doing, the things that would go on for him and what will happen in the future. We had some real good visits. It was really exciting. Coach O is a cool guy. He kept us laughing most of the time. With Coach Aranda, he was more about handling business when he was here. He was a really good visitor, very interesting.”
Dark had always expected to shed some tears during her son’s signing day ceremony. She hasn’t ruled out that possibility, expecting some crying, potentially, as she drops him off at the high school on Wednesday morning.
Perhaps the higher degree of comfort with LSU and McCallum heading out-of-state is a reason why. Her son’s medical tussle was alarming, but it also opened a door for Oregon and his staff to ease the going-away process.
“He pretty much knows how to take care of himself. He always has,” Dark said. “I’m not really worried about his asthma or him going far away anymore. I worry because I’ll be far away and I can’t get to him, but I think he’ll be fine. We’re just excited. We’re really excited.”