The spring is a time for future stars to emerge. Last year, linebacker Deontae Skinner was such a player, and he went on to become a starter last fall, finishing fifth on the team in tackles (69) and second in tackles-for-loss (nine).
So who was this spring’s emerging star? You could make good arguments for a few people, but I’m going with another linebacker: redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney. His name got mentioned more and more as the spring wore on, as he’s battling sophomore Ferlando Bohanna for the middle linebacker’s job.
In Saturday’s Maroon-White spring game, McKinney made an interception, showing his versatility as a defender. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, he reminds teammates and coaches of a guy who recently played linebacker for MSU.
“When he came in on campus, everyone called him Little K.J.,” said weakside linebacker Cam Lawrence, referring to K.J. Wright, who now plays for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. “He looked like K.J., but until we saw him play, we were like, this has to be K.J.’s twin. He looks like him, he plays like him, he’s athletic.”
They play two different linebacker spots, but McKinney and Wright have similar builds, are both rangy, and can both defend the run as well as the pass. McKinney has put his playmaking ability on display quite a bit this spring. And he’s a guy that gets it.
“Obviously you can’t teach four years of experience like K.J., but the one thing he does, he has a lot of length, and he makes a lot of plays,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “I’ve always believed guys that stand up, you shouldn’t have to say too much to them. And so he’s a stand-up guy that you only really have to draw a map, and I’m real excited about that.”
On that interception Saturday, McKinney read the quarterback, read the routes and dropped back, and Dak Prescott‘s pass was underthrown. Lawrence said that earlier in the spring, McKinney would not have been able to make that read and that play.
“I’ve seen him come a long ways this spring, and in training camp he’s going to go a lot farther,” Lawrence said.
McKinney said things began clicking into place for him last year.
“We used to have a thing called Monday Night Football,” he said, “and I was just getting better every night playing, just going hard and learning my plays.”