4-star safety Xavier McKinney starts year with a bang
|Sunday, August 21, 2016 10:32 PM- -|
Xavier McKinney has declared war on the Georgia high school football record books.
And he's single-minded in his determination that he can lead his teammates to the state title that barely eluded them last year.
His campaign got off to a fierce start Friday night after the Clemson safety target took the season-opening kickoff for Roswell (GA) and returned it 91 yards for a touchdown. The play sparked the Hornets' 24-7 thumping of Buford.
“I also had a couple of big tackles here and there,” the four-star, 6-foot-1, 192-pound defender told TigerNet by phone Saturday. “It was a good team win. I feel like we had a great game – we executed well. We've still got some things we need to clear up, but overall I thought it was a good game.”
As a junior, McKinney recorded 55 solo tackles, 52 assists, and nine interceptions. And to hear him tell it, he's just getting warmed up.
“Really, I'm just trying to have the best season that I can have,” McKinney said. “I'm trying to break all the records that I can break and lead my team to a championship. We fell short last year (finishing 14-1 in Class 6A), but I plan on leading them all the way this year (to a 7A title).”
“I was just trying to find a hole and make a play on the first play,” McKinney told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I had a feeling I was going to make a play, so I did it. It set the tone great. That’s exactly what we needed to start off the game. What I did was a good momentum swing but overall we played great. That’s all that matters.”
McKinney is listed by ESPN.com as No. 9 at his position in the Class of 2017 – he is No. 104 in that site's ESPN 300. In addition to Clemson, he holds offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee and several others. As for those programs that have yet to recognize his talents? Well, that's their loss, he said.
“They'll be getting a player that works hard and who's going to make plays and find the ball – anywhere, really,” the four-star prospect said of the school that eventually secures his services. “So I feel like that anybody that gets me will be getting a great player. And a lot of people that haven't offered, I feel like they'll miss out, but that's on them.”
McKinney attended Dabo Swinney Football Camp last June and left TigerTown with a favorable impression of the Clemson program.
“It was good; I enjoyed it,” he said. “I always enjoy the camps. I feel like I learned a lot, so I feel like that was a good camp.”
Another highlight was attending The Opening Finals this summer, at Nike's Oregon headquarters. That experience, he said, educated him on his strengths as well as areas of his game where he can improve.
“There was a lot of competition there, but I definitely enjoyed it,” McKinney said. “There were a lot of guys that have been in the NFL and guys that are in college who kind of teach you up on things and let you know what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right, so... I feel like that was all good stuff for me to know.
“They told me I broke well on the ball when I needed to. They thought I had great ball instincts. But, like some of the coverages that we ran was stuff that we didn't really know, so they kind of had to teach me up on that stuff.”
The message he's received from the Clemson coaching staff, he said, has been consistent and encouraging. Mike Reed, assistant coach/defensive backs, and Tony Elliott, co-offensive coordinator/running backs, have been the Tiger coaches primarily involved in McKinney's recruitment.
“It's pretty much family-based,” McKinney said of Clemson. “The program that they hold is about family. The scheme and the game plan, they feel like I could fit into it very well.”
He said his Roswell teammates Tre Lamar (freshman Clemson linebacker) and LeAnthony Williams (2017 cornerback commit) have also stressed to him the family aspect of Clemson football.
Whatever university he plays football at next year, he said, will be “somewhere I could be comfortable, and feel like family.”
And while McKinney insists he doesn't have a list of top schools at this stage, he has set a firm commitment date that's prior to National Signing Day.
“I don't have a list yet, but I plan on committing January 1,” he said.
McKinney said he watched Clemson in the National Championship game this past January and detected a marked level of improvement in the Tigers' program.
“I thought it was a great game,” he said. “I feel like they're getting better and better each year, which is good. So I may try to keep an eye on them during the season.”