McClain flourished at George Washington and received a scholarship to Syracuse, where he not only enjoyed a successful football career but earned his degree in communications and sociology.
"I didn't know I had it that bad," the 27-year-old McClain said. "That is how I lived. I didn't know it wasn't normal going from house to house, sharing a bed. It was my world, and that is what I knew."
Never forgetting his childhood, McClain has made a conscious effort to give back, with the Salvation Army and his high school among the beneficiaries.
On Thanksgiving, McClain and the Salvation Army of Baltimore partnered in a program that he called 53 Families. McClain wears No. 53. Fifty-three families were treated to Thanksgiving dinner and given more food afterward.
McClain usually is a speaker at the Salvation Army's holiday event and was supposed to speak this year before he suffered his injury and had to go out of town to see doctors.
McClain said he will never forget the impact the Salvation Army had on his life.
"Any time people take you in, that is very good," he said. "The experience wasn't ideal, and it wasn't what you wanted as a kid, and there is an embarrassment factor. But they were really good to us."
McClain said it is important to bring recognition to the Salvation Army, an organization that means a lot to a lot of people.
"I want to help pay them back for what they did for me," he said. "More importantly, it's important to share with people my struggles and to make them know that I was able to go through it and get past it."
McClain also has never forgotten his Public League roots playing for George Washington. During this football season, he returned twice to visit the high school, once attending practice and another time watching a game.
"He is a tremendous young man who never forgot where he came from," said Ron Cohen, who has been the George Washington coach for 27 years.
Cohen said it wasn't unusual for McClain to work out in the summer with the high school players.
"Do you know what it means for a high school kid to be able to work out with a professional football player?" Cohen said.
Two years ago, Cohen said, McClain hired a bus to take players from George Washington, Overbrook, and Frankford to a Ravens summer practice.
"He introduced us to head coach [John Harbaugh], and the coach talked to our kids, and what a tremendous experience that was for the youngsters," Cohen said.
McClain has been a three-year starter for the Ravens. Before this season, he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. But it was the rookie free-agent contract he signed in 2008 that made a lasting impression.
"In reflecting back on my childhood, that first contract was emotional and overwhelming," McClain said. "The feeling was that contract was another step."
He has taken bigger steps since then, making an impact both on and off the football field.
Contact Marc Narducci at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @sjnard on Twitter.