The Mississippi State defensive end can see the finish line to his college career. And as he tries to make the most of his final season, McCardell is having to scrap for every snap against some highly touted competition.
Newcomer Denico Autry was the nation’s top junior college defensive end last season at East Mississippi, which won the NJCAA national title. He had 11 sacks and 41 quarterback hurries, and it’s been assumed by many observers that Autry would take over the starting job at right defensive end.
That’s where McCardell, a career backup, is playing. He’s not content being a backup. Since last season has ended, he has bulked up and shown a lot of improvement in spring and preseason drills.
“It’s coming close to the end,” McCardell said. “I want to see a championship while I’m here, so I know my time’s running out, so I just push harder and harder. And also with Denico coming in, (there’s) just more competition. We’re able to push each other every day.”
McCardell does not view Autry as a threat. In fact, he’s glad to have another guy who can match his speed off the edge. Autry’s presence has only further motivated McCardell, who said “nothing’s set in stone” in terms of the depth chart.
It seems Autry’s arrival lit a fire under McCardell.
“I know it didn’t hurt,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “So from the standpoint of looking over and seeing a guy as talented with a high motor, it think it really has helped Shane a lot, to see how guys perform.”
Autry is expected to give MSU a more productive pass rush, but McCardell could have a big hand in that as well. In fact, both players could be on the field together at times, likely in long-yardage situations.
Autry is a known commodity because of his juco exploits. While McCardell has been at MSU since 2008, he’s never stood out. The most attention he might’ve gotten was when he spent some time working with the wide receivers two years ago.
The 6-foot-5 McCardell weighed as little as 228 at that time. He’s up to 255 now, and the changes he’s made this offseason are more than physical.
“Shane is more confident, he’s got more knowledge of our system, and that’s what makes him different,” Wilson said. “And he’s really turned into a more physical football player than I’ve ever seen him be.”
Over three seasons, McCardell has recorded 17 tackles and 3.0 sacks in 30 games. He had 12 tackles and a sack last season, playing in all 13 games.
As soon as the season ended, the finish line came into view.
“Everything from then on is going to be my last,” he said, “whether it’s spring ball, whether it’s summer conditioning, it’s all my last. So it’s my last go-around, so I’m going to make the most of it.”