By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Benardrick McKinney and Ferlando Bohanna are extremely close. They also happen to be battling each other for the starting middle linebacker job at Mississippi State.
McKinney, a redshirt freshman, has yet to play a college game. Bohanna, a third-year sophomore, played in 10 games last season. As preseason camp cranks up, the two are in a dead heat for the starting job, but there’s not an ounce of ill will between the two.
“I love him as a brother,” said Bohanna, who played against McKinney in high school. Once McKinney joined MSU in 2011, the two quickly formed a bond as they prepared to replace Brandon Wilson in the middle.
It’s been as friendly as such an intense competition could be.
“They’re competing for the same spot, but they pull for each other, they help each other,” linebackers coach Geoff Collins said. “So it’s a really good dynamic we have going between those two. They’re competing, but it’s not a negative competition.”
The work McKinney has done on the practice fields has coaches harboring high hopes. McKinney is 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and has a nose for the ball.
“He’s awesome,” Collins said. “He’s highly intelligent, and the biggest thing about him is he’s a leader. He’s got an infectious personality, and he just kind of takes charge.”
While Bohanna has the edge in experience, McKinney is on the same level with him in the coaches’ eyes. Why? It goes back to that relationship.
“What’s allowed me to catch up is Ferlando,” McKinney said. “When we’re watching film or when we’re just chilling, he helps me out with everything on football. If I ask him what my assignment is, he’s going to tell me. He helps me a lot.”
Bohanna and McKinney are different kinds of players. While McKinney is long and rangy, Bohanna is more compact at 6-foot, 225 pounds.
It makes one wonder if the two might not be seen on the field together from time to time in certain packages.
“There could be, because we’re always multiple,” Collins said. “We could do all kinds of things.”
More than likely, the two will share snaps, and they should make for a pretty strong combo. In off-field preparations, Bohanna and McKinney freely share information and advice, and that goes for all the linebackers.
The two youngsters in the middle are flanked by veteran starters Cam Lawrence and Deontae Skinner, and the film room is an interactive place.
“We get in the film room together, and we’re all teaching,” Bohanna said. “It’s not just one person getting up trying to teach; we all get up and teach each other.”
For McKinney, the one thing he can’t learn before Sept. 1 is exactly what it’s like to play in the SEC. For Bohanna, he’s got to be ready for an increased role, starter or not.
“We’re young, but we’re playing between Cam and Skinner,” McKinney said. “It’s more easy because they know what they’re doing. We’re constantly talking on the field. If I have a second guess, they’re going to tell me what my assignment is.”