McKinley, the 6-4, 250-pound defensive end who was in his second year at San Pablo (Calif.) Contra Costa College this fall, just recently found out he was actually eligible by NCAA standards to immediately transfer to a D-1 school and play.
When it became apparent to him, he committed to UCLA.
"I just signed the scholarship papers and I'm ready to go," McKinley told Scout.com's Greg Biggins. "I'm very excited to be a Bruin, I've liked them for a long time, going back to high school. When I visited over the summer, I just fell in love with the place. I got to tour the campus, see the facilities and the dorms and met some really great people.
It could provide UCLA with an immediate boost to their defensive line. With the unexpected transfer of sophomore defensive end Kylie Fitts right before fall camp (Fitts transferred to Utah), it left a little bit of a hole in the defensive-line two-deep. Jim Mora decided not to redshirt two freshman defensive linemen, Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, to provide depth. McKinley is considered the #1 JC defensive end prospect in the nation, with great athleticism and a very good burst, and he could have the capability of seeing the field this season. UCLA has been looking for more pass-rushing options and McKinley could help bolster that.
"It just felt like home to me and I have a strong comfort level with the players and coaches as well. With UCLA, it's not just about football, it's the total package of academics, alumni support and connections after football. I love the area and the program is going in the right direction so it's a lot of pluses when you pick a school like UCLA."
This all happened pretty quickly for McKinley, and if not for essentially a clerical error, he'd be returning to Contra Costa for a second year -- unnecessarily.
McKinley was part of the 2013 class when he graduated from Richmond (Calif.) Kennedy High School. He committed and signed with California, but Cal incorrectly deemed him a non-qualifier, and McKinley went to Contra Costa with the intention of improving his academics and, after two years, conventionally transferring to a four-year college like most JC players do.
UCLA Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure, though, changed that outlook for McKinley. After McKinley didn't appear to qualify out of high school, he and McClure stayed in touch since McClure obviously recognized McKinley as a potential JC prospect. UCLA had been among McKinley's leaders when he was in high school, so it was natural McClure would continue to recruit him.
McClure visited McKinley last May at Contra Costa during the spring evaluation period. According to McKinley, McClure then went by Kennedy High School to pick up a fresh copy of McKinley's high school transcript, and he noticed something missing. According to McKinley, he had taken two replacement classes at an extension high school during the summer and they weren't on the transcript.
"Coach Angus (McClure) stayed on me since high school and that was big," McKinley said. "We have a real good relationship and I appreciate his loyalty. He was the one who first told me that I had enough credits to play for a Div I school right now. When he went by Kennedy to pick up my H.S transcripts, he noticed I had enough credits to be a full qualifier and things moved pretty quickly from there."
McClure got ahold of the transcript for the two replacement classes and, after looking over his complete transcript, he told McKinley he thought, with the those classes, that McKinley was actually a qualifier out of high school.
McKinley said it took a couple of months for the paperwork to be processed, by the NCAA and UCLA, but he got the word Tuesday that he was actually a qualifier and immediately eligible for D-1 competition.
It's a blow for Cal, which had mistakenly deemed McKinley a non-qualifier in 2013, and missed on getting McKinley into school at that time. It's also interesting that all the schools currently recruiting him seriously, like Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC and others, didn't catch the paperwork mistake.
McKinley, since he played one year at Contra Costa, will have four years to play three at UCLA. In terms of taking the field for UCLA this season, even after McKinley gets through the acclimatization process, it could still be a while before he sees action. He, obviously, will be behind, coming into the program in its third week of the season. He also suffered a hyper-extension of his knee that could keep him out physically another week. But McKinley will have UCLA's bye week after the Texas game this Saturday to get himself ready to play.
"I can't wait to get going," McKinley said. "This is really a dream come true for me. I'm close with Kenneth Walker (UCLA WR) and he has been pushing UCLA for the last two years. My goal is to get out there on the field and help the team as soon as I can.
"It's awesome to have an opportunity to play at the Div I level so soon. I thought I would have to play out this season and then transfer next fall. I wasn't promised anything as far as playing time but I'm going to work hard and do everything I can to get on the field. UCLA has a great team and I'm just excited to be able to be a part of it."
With reports from Greg Biggins.
A few highlights from one game of McKinley last season and an interview from last October. McKinley is #98.