HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Kevin McArthur's life story hasn't been written or filmed yet, but the material is there.

Anyone with a soft heart for a young man driven by poverty to beat the odds against getting to college and then building a career in pro football should love McArthur's story. And the story might be played out before New York Jets fans in NFL seasons to come.

This is a player ignored in the NFL draft, signed and then quickly cut by the Los Angeles Raiders and then cut and re-signed three times by the Jets over the past three years.

"I've always had a burning desire, and each time the coaches said I wasn't cut on ability, that it was just a numbers game," the 24-year-old free agent said this week in training camp. "{Raiders Coach} Tom Flores told me there was a place for me in the NFL."

McArthur is on the verge of solidifying his role with the Jets. He came to camp with the rookies and free agents, but with Lance Mehl working his way back from knee surgery, McArthur would be the starter at defensive tackle if the season opened today.

"In the past, I was starting from the bottom. Now I'm at the top trying to stay there," he said.

This is a player who had to make the Lamar University team as a freshman walk-on, but who was so feared by his junior year that his coach kept him on the sidelines during spring practice.

"They were afraid I'd hurt someone. I was aggressive," he said. "When I got there my freshman year, my name was supposed to be on a scholarship list, but it wasn't there. So they told me they'd see about it after I played a semester."

He's one of 13 children raised on welfare checks in Lake Charles, La. He remembered the bad old days this way: "We never had things handed to us. Our mother and father always said don't take things for granted. We were up at 6 a.m., prayed three times every day and put Christ first and then our education."

McArthur's mother died in June, and he sends part of his paycheck back to Louisiana to help his sister raise two of his young siblings. He has dedicated this season to his mother.

"The last time she saw me, she said: 'I'll see y'all play this year. I ain't ridin' no plane or train, but don't worry, I'll be there.' It never occurred to me that this was how she'd see the season."

What Jets fans will see is a brutal hitter. McArthur will make the team mainly because he hits hard. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, he's not particularly big or fast.

But McArthur hits.

"I get high off contact," he said. "I don't feel good until I hit somebody or somebody hits me. The guys have been kidding me about the hit I made the other day {a crushing blow on running back Robert Mimbs}. They said I was trying to knock the Jets' emblems off their helmets. But I'm just doing my job."

For any fans who still need a reminder, this is the man who applied the coup de grace to the Kansas City Chiefs in last year's AFC wild card game. McArthur stepped in front of Jonathan Hayes, intercepted a pass from Todd Blackledge at the Chiefs' 21-yard line and scored a touchdown that gave New York a 28-6 lead.

"I like to think of myself as a big-play guy, someone to make the big hit, cause a turnover or a fumble," he said. The Jets like that, but it wasn't that long ago that Coach Joe Walton repeatedly referred to McArthur as "McArthy." No more. Now Walton calls him "Mac."

"I like Mac's type of player," Walton said. "He's come from a long way back. He's hungry."