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Thoughts about Kenny: Eleven Forever

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  • Thoughts about Kenny: Eleven Forever

    Thoughts about Kenny: Eleven Forever
    Posted by travis_haney at 9/21/2010 12:11 AM EDT on Post and Courier

    COLA -- Disbelief. That's the first-instinct, punch-to-the-gut feeling after hearing about Kenny McKinley.

    That's the one I got just as we were walking into South Carolina's practice Monday night. Someone ran up to me and told me to check my phone, telling me about the report. Sure enough, news was filling up Twitter in that moment.

    We communicated what was happening to SID, who then went to tell coach Steve Spurrier.

    Soon, that similar feeling of disbelief had spread to everyone on the field -- former teammates, support staff that spent a lot of time with him, coaches.

    Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. helped turn a high school quarterback into an All-SEC receiver. Spurrier honored McKinley's commitment to Lou Holtz and the staff that preceded Spurrier's arrival in late 2004.

    I thought about the size of the knot in my stomach -- and then imagined how much bigger it must have been for Spurrier, Spurrier Jr. and the guys that shared a locker room and football field with Kenny.

    How about offensive lineman Terrence Campbell, who grew up with McKinley in the Atlanta area?

    The second feeling, after disbelief, is ... Why?

    I remember that being something that hit me like a tackling dummy. Kenny? Why? If I've ever known a happier dude, I can't recall him right now. Kenny was always smiling, always upbeat, always encouraging.

    But, you know, Kenny had been gone for the better part of two years. That's enough time -- more than enough time -- for a lot of things to change in a man's life.

    Several former and current teammates intimated to me -- most off the record -- that they simply couldn't believe McKinley would kill himself. Like, they literally didn't believe it. It didn't compute. They said he'd be the last person they'd ever expect this from. And that goes right along with the Kenny I knew, even if I didn't know him nearly as well as they did.

    I remember running into Kenny a few times when we were out. I laughed tonight when I remembered seeing Kenny after curfew on a gameweek Thursday night in 2008, his senior year. (Not long after curfew. Something like 10:30, when the cutoff was 10 p.m.)

    Put it this way: McKinley wasn't the only Gamecock in the bar. I went up to him and half-joking/half-serious told him he needed to get his teammates out of the bar.

    He just grinned - he always did that - and nodded. He knew better. But he couldn't help but want to have five more minutes of fun.

    Five minutes later, McKinley was gone. And he'd rounded up his teammates and got them out of there, too.

    That was McKinley. He was fun, a guy to keep everyone loose. But he was a leader who set tone on and off the field.

    I've covered a lot of teams in a lot of sports, but I don't know if I've ever covered a player who was more universally loved by his teammates. That's what makes this one so tough to get a hold of.

    One player I talked to tonight, in talking about his inability to comprehend this, mentioned that McKinley could've done anything he wanted if the NFL didn't work out. If McKinley had returned to Columbia, it would've put him on the November governor's ballot -- and McKinley might've won.

    There was nothing so bad in McKinley's world that it couldn't have been repaired with his smile and spirit.

    South Carolina's list of heroes is a relatively short one.

    In fact, I'd make an argument that McKinley is No. 1. I say he's The Best. (And I'd say that with Monday's news aside.)

    Think about it: A high school quarterback who had never played receiver arrives at a college that's in disarray after a coaching change prompted, in part, by an on-field brawl with his rival.

    McKinley picked up receiver in a hurry, doing what a lot of gifted receivers don't do by playing right away as a freshman. He worked to be the inside slot guy to complement Sidney Rice. He'd make the tough catches, take a pop and pop right up. He was the dirt guy who kept the chains moving on third down. He loved that role. He loved going over the middle.

    When Rice was gone, McKinley showed he could play hero just as well as sidekick. He had a 77-catch, 968-yard junior season, after Rice's departure in the NFL. Many didn't think he could hack it as a No. 1, but he proved them wrong.

    He returned for his senior year, frustrated by the five-game losing streak to end that 2007 season. He could've gone pro, but he put it off for a chance at winning at South Carolina. The Gamecocks at least made it to a bowl in his senior season. McKinley missed three games with a hamstring injury, but he still managed 54 catches and 642 yards.

    He lapped Sterling Sharpe's records for receptions and yards. In fact, McKinley finished third in SEC history, with 207 career catches. Only five players in the league's history have more than 200 receptions.

    But, God, this isn't about catches or yards. It's about the fact that no one can say more than three words about McKinley before mentioning his smile. This is about what kind of guy McKinley was in 23 short years.

    It was his trademark, even beyond catches across the middle - and that's saying something. I loved talking with McKinley. He was honest and intelligent, and he didn't mind talking to us. He was the friendliest player I've ever covered, up there with current Diamondbacks and former Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche.

    Again, it all makes it more difficult to digest. It'll be that way for a while, for everyone that came into contact with him -- and even those that felt connected to him from the stands.

    Kenny was a hero to a lot of people, young and old. And I can't imagine a better hero to have. I honestly can't. I'm not just saying that.

    If I had a son (and when I do), I'll tell him about Kenny McKinley.

    Kenny played and worked hard. He took himself seriously, but not too seriously. He was the model student-athlete, a coach's dream.

    These are the cliches that get bandied around when young men die. But, with Kenny, they're legit. He was different. He was special. That would be the case, even if he were alive and breathing this second.

    I thought all of these things, all along. My friend Lindsay covered Kenny in Denver. Every single time I talked to Lindsay, I told her to tell Kenny hey. I don't do that with other Gamecocks in the NFL. Kenny was my favorite. I know he was a bunch of yours, too.

    Death took McKinley from the world, but it can't take the memories from Carolina. It can't.

    As some of the players have said tonight, Kenny McKinley is Eleven Forever.

  • #2
    I loved reading that. Thank you very much for posting it.
    Kenny McKinley: Eleven Forever.


    • #3
      Thank you for posting this. RIP Kenny McKinley
      Broncosgirl in NY


      • #4
        Thanks for posting the article. Things like this make you stop and think.
        Most of the time you can't see or understand the reason. You always wonder if maybe you could have said or done something to prevent this tragedy.

        My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and young child.


        • #5
          Rest in peace Kenny, Man I hope his family will find peace in their loss. God Bless, the Bronco nation is behind you.


          • #6
            Great article and thank you for posting it. :thumb:

            R.I.P Kenny
            Adopted Poster
            AZ Snake Fan


            • #7
              Wow, this whole situation is just horrible. I don't understand how anything could be so bad in life that you are willing to put everyone you know through absolute hell. I'm not judging, it's just a shame.

              RIP Kenny
              My other love...
              305 HP / 273 TQ / SH-AWD / 6MT


              • #8
                Fantastic article about Kenny. A gone too soon. RIP Kenny.
                2020 Adopt-A-Bronco -- Philip Lindsay -- The Tasmanian Devil
                Let's Go Broncos, Penguins, Penn State, Matt DiBenedetto & Tony Stewart!
                US Navy 8/15/06-CURRENT ~~ EN1(SCW) ~~ ACB-2


                • #9
                  Excellent article. Thanks for posting. RIP Kenny.


                  • #10
                    Just a very sad turn of events for a young man with a promising future. Pray for Kenny's family during this difficult time.


                    • #11
                      Great article thanks for posting. Could not believe it when I heard it, RIP Kenny and condolences to all your family and friends.


                      • #12
                        Just read that write-up somewhere else and came here to post it. Great read! Thanks for posting...

                        RIP Kenny...
                        Winter is Coming!


                        • #13
                          Very nice article. It made me feel like I know the man that much better.

                          11 Forever
                          :usa: *** God Bless Our Military Men And Women*** :usa:



                          • #14
                            I've never really cried over somebody I didn't know.

                            RIP Kenny. RIP.