With the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) realigning schools and conferences across the state East Montgomery High School has moved up to a 2-A classification and into a new conference without any of their previous league rivals.
Eagle star running back Courtney McKinney likes making the move up.
”I’m looking forward to the competition, that’s really what I want,” McKinney said.
East Montgomery’s new opponents, in what the NCHSAA has dubbed 2-A Conference N, will have to spend ample time preparing for McKinney, as well.
He enters his senior year on pace to potentially eclipse 6,000 career-rushing yards after a junior campaign that included 11 games over 200 yards and one over 300. And, consider that McKinney lost a full game of stats when South Davidson had to forfeit their match-up.
McKinney’s 39-touchdown 2016 season is the 14th best in North Carolina’s high-school football record book.
As new East Montgomery Coach Dave Paddock shares, the Eagles’ 2017 game plans will feature McKinney even more prominently than last season, and sometimes in all three phases of the game.
”We’re going to build our offense based on our strengths, personnel-wise. Obviously, we have a very good running back and a great offensive line, especially in terms of run blocking. So we’re going to run the ball a lot,” Paddock says. “We’re going to look to build off our run game.
”We are going to look to have a situational role for him on defense. It will proceed more as the season goes along, a very specific role we have in mind for him we think he can be very, very influential at. We’ll have him return kicks, as he did last year. Every time you get the ball in his hands it gives him a chance to score.
”But, his role for us is to run the football.”
One trait that has consistently marked McKinney’s incredible success has been the big play. In 2015, when he was as impactful as a receiver as at running back, McKinney averaged 28.4 yards per reception and 11.7 per carry. In 2016, his rushing average jumped to 13.7 yards per carry on the way to 2,730 yards.
Coach Paddock knows the move to 2-A competition will influence McKinney’s video-game caliber stats, but McKinney is confident he and his teammates will respond.
”We had a game last year where he carried the ball six or seven times and got tackled or pushed out of bounds one time, and scored five touchdowns,” Paddock said of McKinney’s six-carry, 312-yard, four rushing touchdown game against Chatham Central, which also included a 62-yard scoring reception.
”There will be times now with moving up to higher level of competition he’ll get tackled from time to time. It’s going to happen,” Paddock continues. “He’ll have to run the ball 15, 20, possibly 25 times in a game, and continue to have that burst when the opportunity is there to split the safeties and get to the end zone.”
”We’re going to 2-A, but I feel like we’re still going to be good at 2-A,” McKinney said. “I want to run the ball like I did last year, but it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t get as many yards or more yards than I did last year. I just want to go and win a state championship, like every player would want to. So, that’s really what I want.”
Since McKinney’s 2016 football season ended in the 1-A state playoff quarterfinals he has stayed busy as a key performer in other Eagle programs.
”Since football ended I played basketball and right now I’m in track season, so I’ve been working to get faster,” McKinney said. “I run track for football.”
In addition to averaging 15.4 points per game for the Eagle basketball team, McKinney has recorded a season-best 11.05 100-meter dash time. Last year’s 1-A state championship time in the event was 11.04.
McKinney becameAppalachian State's first 2018 commitment on October 28th, and most recently visited App State along with elite junior prospects on April 29th.
”It felt good, I like going up there because it feels like home up there,” says McKinney. “We go up there for team camp every summer since Coach Paddock and Coach Hammer got here, so I like going up there and seeing the coaches.”
McKinney spent most of his time during the visit with Mountaineer Running Back Coach Stu Holt, talking about Courtney’s role and the future running back depth chart.
”He was asking me where I mainly want to play and I told him I want to play running back, and he said that’s what we would do,” McKinney said. “He was telling me who would be leaving and that Jalin (Moore) is going to be a senior when I get there, and he said two more running backs are coming in, too.”
He also made the April visit with his mother, who further validated McKinney’s decision to commit to Appalachian.
”She asked a lot of questions and she liked it up there. She said that would be a good school for me to go to,” said McKinney.
College coaches continue to reach out to McKinney and make campus visits to East Montgomery, in spite of his commitment to App State. Still, McKinney remains solidly pledged to the Mountaineers.
”Yes, I still feel strongly about App,” McKinney says. “I don’t feel like I need to de-commit because I really like it there, so I’m going to stay committed.”
”As these coaches come through and want to speak with Courtney they understand that he’s committed to App State,” adds Coach Paddock. “They want to meet him, he’s a great talent and they like to see great talent, they want to get to know him and see what his interests are, and if he is interested in de-committing.
”He really hasn’t wavered from App State throughout the process.
”One of the things we talk to our guys about is that the attention Courtney gets as a premier player in a small program helps everyone. The old saying is a rising tide lifts all boats. We’ve got a few other very good players that might be FCS-level players or walk-ons at FBS programs that are getting looks and getting attention because of the positivity that Courtney is bringing to our program.”
In the meantime, McKinney will be focused on spring football, which begins on May 15th, and summer workouts.
”We have football here every day, so I’m looking forward to that because it’s helping me get better. We run a lot here, so we’re in shape later in the season,” McKinney says.
Paddock recognizes McKinney’s offseason dedication and appreciates how Courtney leads the team through his actions.
”He’s done a great job with his work ethic and his toughness, his ability not only with our running program but also in the weight room,” Paddock concludes. “He’s one of the physically strongest members of our program. He’s got that 11.05 100-yard dash time, but he’s also cleaning over 300 pounds.
”He continues to be a great leader by example. He’s not the most vocal leader and that’s okay, because not everyone fits that bill. If he wants to be more vocal that’s great, but we understand everyone has their strengths.”
McKinney and East Montgomery will open their 2017 season on August 18th at Union Pines High School.
COURTNEY McKINNEY JUNIOR HIGHLIGHTS