Best Decision of My Life: Coming Back to USC
Gamecock wide receiver Kenny McKinley was one of two seniors chosen by head coach Steve Spurrier to represent South Carolina at the 2008 SEC Media Days. The 6', 182-pounder doesn't have prototypical size or speed, but his elite quickness, excellent hands and superior route-running skills would have likely put him in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft. South Carolina has had an issue of players leaving early for the draft in recent history, and McKinley leaving would have put a serious damper on any chances South Carolina has of contending for an SEC title this year.
McKinley says there were a multitude of reasons he chose to come back for his senior season.
"I [saw] that we had a great team, and we had a chance," McKinley said. "Last year we had the team, but I don't know what it was. It might have been the effort like coach said, we just hadn't been there. Well we've been there; we started off 6-1. Now we've just got to know how to finish. And that was a big reason to come back."
The talented pass-catcher says it was a long offseason, but the five game losing streak has served as a learning experience and motivation for the entire team.
"We started off last year 6-1," McKinley said. "We kind of didn't know how to handle it, and we started overlooking people and thinking we were hot stuff and overlooked Vanderbilt and our season went down. So this season we've got to go in there with a humbling attitude... and take every game one at a time."
Throwing passes to McKinley this year will likely be redshirt junior quarterback Tommy Beecher. Even though Beecher hasn't had the chance to show the public he is ready to lead a team, the Concord, NC native has shown McKinley all he needs to see.
"He's got the whole team behind him," McKinley said. "We've been working out this summer, he steps in the huddle, he's talking to guys and everybody's listening. Around the team, Beecher's the man. We ride with him 100-percent and have no doubt that he'll come show the world what he can do. I can't wait for the season to start so he can show the world what he can do, because I know what he can do."
The hiring of new assistant coaches like Ellis Johnson and Ray Rychleski should allow Spurrier to spend more of his time working with the quarterbacks like he did in the past. During his time at South Carolina, Spurrier has had to spend more time putting his finger on various other positions like the offensive line and parts of the defense.
McKinley believes anyone who thinks Spurrier has lost his offensive touch hasn't seen him in the huddle.
"Coach Spurrier writes plays up in the dirt," McKinley said with a smile. "Coach Spurrier is a genius. If he sees that this guy is playing such way, he'll call a timeout and come tell us, ‘Alright, we're going to try this play right here,' and just make it up right there on the spot. And a lot of times they work."
With Spurrier coaching the quarterbacks and some pretty deep talent at the skill positions, the play of the entire offense could be determined by the play of the offensive line, according to McKinley.
"The line is going to take the offense as far as we can go this year," McKinley said. "Those guys have got a lot better since last year. They had a great spring."
With talent on offense and defense, McKinley firmly believes the Gamecocks have the athletes and experience to compete with the top contenders in the ultra-competitive SEC.
"The first couple of years here, we might not have had the talent," McKinley said. "But now I feel like we have the talent to compete with anybody — LSU, Tennessee, anybody. We've got the same type of talent they have. So there's no reason we should be losing anymore."
And as for that decision to come back for his senior year? McKinley couldn't be any happier.
"I just love the University of South Carolina football. That's been the best choice I think I might have made in my life coming back. Because right now I'm having the time of my life being with my teammates every day, and I'm just having a ball."
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