SEC Media Days: Mullen’s gamble on McKinney pays off

Linebacker Benardrick McKinney's only offer came from Mississippi State. The former Rosa Fort quarterback has repaid coach Dan Mullen for his confidence with 173 tackles, including 71 last season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Linebacker Benardrick McKinney’s only offer came from Mississippi State. The former Rosa Fort quarterback has repaid coach Dan Mullen for his confidence with 173 tackles, including 71 last season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

By Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Benardrick McKinney is another example of Dan Mullen finding a diamond in the rough in a rural Mississippi town.

Mississippi State was the only school to offer the former Rosa Fort High School quarterback and has developed McKinney into one of the top linebacker talents in the country.

“He plays with an unbelievable chip on his shoulder,” Mullen said. “I think he was a two-star recruit out of high school and wasn’t really recruited at all. We saw that this guy had a tremendous ability and growth potential. He plays with that chip of wanting to prove everybody wrong.”

McKinney has packed on 37-pounds of muscle onto his 6-foot-5 frame during his four years in Starkville.

Now a 245 pounder, he has been selected to watch lists for the Butkus, Lombardi and Bednarik awards as well as the Nagurski Trophy this preseason. He is also considered the top underclassman inside linebacker by ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

“It’s a great honor, not really coming from much in Tunica,” McKinney said. “My mom always told me to be humble, so I just take it day by day and just try to be a great player.”

During the past two seasons, McKinney has tallied 173 tackles, including a team-leading 71 last season. He also topped the Bulldogs with seven tackles for loss while adding 3.5 sacks and recovered two fumbles.

“He is the vocal, emotional leader of the defense with how he gets out in front and encourages guys,” Mullen said. “He plays the game with a passion. He will do whatever it takes for the team to win.”

High expectations

MSU quarterback Dak Prescott has drawn high praise and even a few Heisman Trophy candidate comparisons from fans and college football analysts alike heading into his junior campaign.

But no one is setting higher goals than Prescott himself.

“I have high expectations for myself,” Prescott said. “I’m going to continue to do what I do, work hard, get better and try to be the best quarterback that I can.”

Prescott started seven games in 2013 and led the Bulldogs with 2,822 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns while splitting time with Tyler Russell behind center.

“He has an unbelievable work ethic,” Mullen said. “That hasn’t slowed down. He had a good season last year and had success. He’s a guy that looks and is critical on himself of what he does well, what he does poorly and he’s constantly working to improve upon his skill set.”

Long-awaited return

Senior safety Jay Hughes is anxious for the Bulldogs’ season opener with Southern Miss on Aug. 30 for several reasons.

Safety Jay Hughes is ready for the opener against Southern Miss after missing virtually all of last season with a ruptured Achilles'. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Safety Jay Hughes is ready for the opener against Southern Miss after missing virtually all of last season with a ruptured Achilles’. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Not only did Hughes graduate from Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg but his father and State safeties coach, Tony, coached the Golden Eagles in 2008.

However, Hughes is simply excited to be back on the field after suffering a season-ending ruptured Achilles in the opener against Oklahoma State last year.

“I can’t wait, it’s been a minute,” Jay Hughes said. “Week one, game one, play six, I remember it. I have been hungry ever since. I’ve been working hard. I’ve been consistent with my rehab and staying on top of it. It just feels good to be back with my teammates.”

logan.lowery@journalinc.com