Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney lowers for a tackle in last year’s win at Arkansas. (Photo by Jason Ivester/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Last season: 7-6 (3-5)
All-time record: 521-555-39
SEC titles: 1
Opener: Southern Miss on Aug. 30
COMING TUESDAY: Missouri
There is a belief that Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney's success stems from his rather thin recruiting file.
Mississippi State was easily McKinney's best scholarship offer in the winter of 2011 according to Rivals.com, with even Memphis and Southern Miss shying from the athlete prospect from Rosa Fort High in Tunica, Miss. McKinney was rated by 247Sports.com as the nation's No. 912 prospect, so he hardly made a ripple as 296 players signed with Southeastern Conference schools that year.
"I think he plays with an unbelievable chip on his shoulder," MSU coach Dan Mullen said at SEC media days. "I think he was a two-star recruit out of high school. We saw him and thought, 'Hey, this guy has got tremendous ability and tremendous growth potential.'
"He sees himself as a good player who nobody wanted to give an opportunity, and now he wants to prove everybody wrong."
What may have been overlooked three years ago was that McKinney made 66 tackles as a Rosa Fort senior but also threw for 1,334 yards and rushed for 702 as his team's quarterback. He also punted and played basketball, so he arrived in Starkville simply needing a home on the field, which he found at linebacker.
After redshirting in 2011, McKinney led all freshmen in the SEC during the 2012 season with 102 tackles, a total that tied for second among freshmen in the Bowl Subdivision. His tackle total slipped to 71 last season, but he made seven lost-yardage stops and had a five-game stretch with a tackle for loss, the longest for the Bulldogs since K.J. Wright went six consecutive games in 2010.
Wright, now a member of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, is one of two MSU players McKinney admired growing up.
"I liked Cam Lawrence and K.J. Wright," McKinney said. "Both of them are 15 minutes either way from my hometown. K.J. is from Olive Branch and Cam is from Senatobia. A lot of people compare me to K.J., and two years ago, when I played with Cam, he inspired me to be the best I can be."
McKinney is among the nine starters back -- 300-pound sophomore lineman Chris Jones is all-conference material as well -- on a Mississippi State defense that was highly effective in its last four games, beginning with the 20-7 loss to Alabama. A week before losing to the Crimson Tide, MSU lost 51-41 on the road to Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel, who McKinney claims is "the only person who really frustrated me."
The Bulldogs have eight offensive starters back, including the receiver tandem of Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson and quarterback Dak Prescott, who rushed for 829 yards last year for the 7-6 Liberty Bowl champions. Prescott believes going against McKinney makes him better by the day.
"He's 6-5, 250 and can run a 4.5," Prescott said. "He can jump out of this world. He's a freak, simple as that, and you can see it by just walking by him."
McKinney recently was ranked among the top dozen freaks in college football by Fox Sports, but he doesn't see himself as one.
"I feel that I'm just a normal player," he said. "I have friends that tell me I'm good, but I'm not really satisfied. The coaches put me in position to make plays, but I need to make bigger plays.
"I need to make plays where people are saying, 'Oh, wow,' and things like that."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...