Former United States Naval Academy linebacker Bobby McClarin and the many athletes in attendance at Darrun Day Basketball Clinic in 2018. McClarin started a mentoring program for youth football players called The Five Star Heart Project. (Courtesy of Bobby McClarin)

Bobby McClarin, local native and former standout Navy football player, leads next generation


Thirty minutes before one of the biggest games of his life, Bobby McClarin, a former linebacker for the United States Naval Academy, was asked to give the pregame speech. 

But this game wasn’t just any game.

Navy was taking on one of the best teams in the country, the University of Notre Dame. 

McClarin didn’t know what he was going to talk about. With time winding down, it clicked.

“(Notre Dame’s) locker room is filled with a bunch of brothers who have five-star recruits, but this brotherhood has five-star hearts,” McClarin said. 

That afternoon, Navy went on to upset Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Little did he know at the time how much that quote would mean to him. 

Eight years later, when McClarin was thinking of starting a nonprofit in the Lehigh Valley, the Liberty High School graduate knew exactly what he would call it. 

Going back to that day in the locker room, McClarin thought about what gave Navy the advantage in that game. The Midshipmen might not have had the Fighting Irish’s five-star talent, but what they did have was commitment, work ethic and, most importantly, five-star hearts. 

Fifteen years after his speech, McClarin still values those qualities the most. 

As someone who has been down the college athletics path, McClarin knows better than most how youth camps and clinics work. So, when he was thinking about starting his program, McClarin’s goal was to “give kids a vision of success.” 

At McClarin’s first-ever football clinic, 13 children showed up. 

He said after that clinic, he wanted to give children more than a free T-shirt. McClarin wanted to give back to the Lehigh Valley, the place that made him who he is today. 

McClarin’s vision turned into reality when he ran into Jim Wills, his old middle school basketball coach and current vice president at Five Star Heart. 

This day changed his life. 

In 2014, McClarin was obtaining his MBA at Moravian College and working at Air Products, but he wasn’t satisfied. 

“I’ll never forget that day,” Wills said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. (McClarin) said, ‘I’d really like to do this football clinic, but I have a lot going on.’ I said, ‘You have got to do this — this what you like to do. This is your passion. It’s what’s going to make you complete.’”

After seeing Wills, McClarin knew that was his calling to do something more significant for the community.

With Will’s words in mind, McClarin went full throttle and started his nonprofit — the Five Star Heart Project. 

McClarin said he didn’t have any lawyers — he looked up how to establish a nonprofit, acquired his 501(c)(3) status and went from there. 

McClarin said if he never saw Wills before attending an MBA class, he would not have proceeded with the football camp the previous year and subsequent motivation to establish Five Star Heart.

His goal for the Bethlehem-based program is not about securing the most talented children. He wants the children who work hard day in and out. 

That moment of inspiration with Wills led to the continued desire to give back. 

After a couple of years of dipping his toes in the water, McClarin started a mentoring program. It’s led by collegiate student-athletes and himself. 

Because of the high demand to go on college visits, McClarin said he chooses the student who has a 2.5 GPA, a right attitude and work ethic over the 4.0 student who has terrible comments on his report card. 

Jalen Stewart, a former Five Star Heart athlete and current running back at the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut, saw firsthand how much McClarin does for those around him. 

“His commitment to every single one of his clients is what sticks out to him,” Stewart said. “Whether you’re in high school or a kid, he has the same commitment. He genuinely cares about every single person that he works with.” 

While McClarin specifically works with athletes at Five Star Heart, it’s more than football.

“Bobby has the same passion when he was playing as he does for Five Star Heart,” said Buddy Green, a former Navy football defensive coordinator and current nonvoting ambassador at Five Star Heart. “When you have that combination, great things can happen. That’s the way he attacks each day. He makes Five Star Heart an organization that helps the whole community become a better place.” 

When COVID-19 closed gyms for months, student-athletes were unsure how they would stay in shape for their upcoming season. 

McClarin stepped up to the plate. 

He got access to the Bethlehem Ice Rink and would have children work out six feet apart. All athletes had to wear masks and get their temperature checked before coming in. 

“That was huge, especially for the guys that are playing college football now — it allowed them to stay in shape,” Stewart said. 

McClarin went from working with 13 children to thousands of children in seven years. 

Sometimes in life, it’s all about timing. This could not be truer for McClarin. 

“It makes me smile to see others smile,” McClarin said. “My end goal is to see people succeed.”

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