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McKinney finding his niche

December 16, 2012

Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney, right, tackles Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel earlier this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

The first season of playing football for most redshirt freshman is about getting their feet under them and learning the ins-and-outs of the program.

For Mississippi State redshirt freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney, that is not the case.

The 6-5, 235-pound Tunica native has pulled down several Freshman All-American honors. He was selected to the CBS Spots,, FoxSportsNEXT and the Phil Steele Freshman All-American first team.

"To be a Mississippi-born kid and get all those rewards is pretty special," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "It worked out very well for him, and I think because of that, those situations, I think our guys kind of trust us and know that we’re going to try to help them as much as possible to become successful.”

McKinney was also selected to the Freshman All-SEC first team by both the Coaches and He was honored as the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week in a 27-14 win over Kentucky on Oct. 6. McKinney had led the team with 12 tackles, 10 solos and two assists. He had a tackle for loss and broke up two passes.

"I'm never satisfied about what I've accomplished because I always think I can do better," McKinney said. "In my perspective, I had an OK season."

McKinney finished the regular season with 97 tackles for second best on the team. He had 40 solo tackles and 57 assists.  He had one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss.

The All-American honors is something McKinney looks at as a blessing, but he is quick to give a lot of credit to the people around him.

"It's a good pleasure and a good blessing," McKinney said. "I couldn't have done it without my coaches, my players and linebackers helping me out."

MSU linebackers coach Geoff Collins sees it as a pleasure to coach somebody like McKinney.

"He deserves every honor that he gets," Collins said. "He's a great player but he is even a better person. He has embraced everything that we try to teach as far as a program goes. (He's) investing everything he can into the program, trying to be the best he can be academically and on the field. He is just a pleasure to coach."

When asked if he thought McKinney could win these honors when they rolled into preseason drills, Collins simply replied "absolutely."

"We have high expectations for all the guys," Collins said. "He follows Cam's (Lawrence) lead. He tried to watch everything Cam did, how he prepared and how he handled his business. He has some natural God-given ability and he has responded with a really productive season."

McKinney really didn't know what to expect of his first year as a starter. He didn't think he was going to be selected for all these honors.

"Anything's possible, but I didn't think it was going to be this soon," McKinney said. "Coach Collins always emphasized that I needed to be playmaker."

McKinney has had a good leader to look up to in Lawrence. As a senior, Lawrence has seen a bunch in his time with the Bulldogs.

"I have learned a lot from Cam," McKinney said. "He emphasized to me to make big plays, work hard in the offseason and he treated me like a little brother."

Many think McKinney is like a former Bulldog linebacker.

"Everybody compares me to K.J (Wright)," McKinney said. "I look up to him."

Wright played at Mississippi State from 2007-10. He is currently playing in the National Football League with the Seattle Seahawks.

Wright did his job in getting McKinney to become a Bulldog.

"I talked to him when I came up here on my visit," McKinney said. "He just told me to keep playing hard."

McKinney will be playing in his first-ever bowl game when the Bulldogs travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to take on No. 21 (Associated Press) Northwestern in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013.

"I'm very excited," McKinney said. "First bowl game, it's something I always wanted to accomplish as a kid."

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