DRAFT SEASON is the thrilling story of four young football players as they prepare for the bewildering, multi-million dollar extravaganza that is the NFL Draft. Morgan Trent, Kenny McKinley, Frantz Joseph and Lydon Murtha come from different backgrounds, but are united in their determination to make it to the NFL. Once they have played their final down of college football, their eyes immediately turned toward the NFL Draft. DRAFT SEASON takes you inside the everyday battles each player endures as he tries to achieve his lifelong goal of playing in the NFL.
The annual NFL Draft has become more than a rote selection of players. It’s a crucible of childhood dreams and professional glory, where entire careers are made, and the trajectories of whole families are altered. For football fans, it’s a chance to get an off-season fix and enjoy a behind the scenes journey into the NFL. What players do during this time is as important as any on field achievement during their college careers.
DRAFT SEASON is the first time readers can live the players’ experience, as these young men – physically powerful but often emotionally fragile – experience a tumultuous four months from collegiate dominance, through the first tinges of career anxiety.
DRAFT SEASON also features insight from current NFL coaches, general managers, former NFL coaches and some of the nation’s most renowned NFL Draft experts in addition to a host of current NFL players.
Contributors to the book include:
Current NFL head coaches Bill Belichick (New England Patriots), Tom Coughlin (New York Giant), Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans), Brad Childress (Minnesota Vikings), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals), Rex Ryan (New York Jets), Gary Kubiak (Houston Texans), Mike McCarthy (Green Bay Packers), Jim Mora (Seattle Seahawks) and Steve Spagnuolo (St. Louis Rams)
Current NFL General managers Bill Polian (Indianapolis Colts), Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens), Mike Tannenbaum (New York Jets), George Kokinis (Cleveland Browns) and Rick Smith (Houston Texans)
Former NFL head coaches Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci and Brian Billick
Former NFL General managers Charley Casserly
NFL Draft experts Mike Mayock (NFL Network), Rob Rang (CBS Sports) and Scott Wright (Draftcountdown.com)
RIP Kenny McKinley
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Three of DRAFT SEASON, which is entitled "A Southern Superstar."
Kenny wasn’t the biggest player in the world, but he never shied away from contact. On his best day, he was lucky if he cleared the six-foot plateau and he usually carried about 185 pounds on his wiry frame.
“Size has never been an issue,” said Kenny. “I got heart that makes up for it. I’m going to take the hits and keep on ticking. There’s a lot of heart about me.”
As successful as Kenny was at South Carolina, he had never played receiver before arriving in Columbia. He was a lifelong quarterback who first started playing at a very young age in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was four years old when I first started playing and I played in a six year-old league,” said Kenny. “I didn’t know what I was doing out there. I was like a chicken with his head cut off. But when I started playing with my age group, I was pretty much better than everybody else.”
Superstar status came very early for Kenny. He quickly grew accustomed to being the best player on the field and that continued all the way through high school. His constant devotion to the game of football also helped him steer clear of the everyday dangers that lurked in the city of Atlanta.
“Football is something that keeps people out of trouble,” said Kenny. “If I wasn’t playing football, there’s no telling what I’d be out there doing. Football was everything. I’d be at practice til’ seven o’ clock. After that, I would go home. During that time after school, I could be out there doing the wrong things. I had a lot of friends who didn’t play football and wound up getting into some kind of trouble. Football gave me a chance to go to college and explore the world. Football is a beautiful thing.”
Like many superstars, Kenny received a lot of recruiting attention when it came time to choose a college. He had quite a few schools urging him to become a part of their program. But when it came down to it, choosing South Carolina was a no- brainer. Kenny explained why.
“Steve Spurrier. He’s got a great offensive mind and he’s just an offensive genius. He told me I could play receiver. Coming from Steve, if he says you could be a great receiver, that’s a great accomplishment. He put a lot of them in the league. I just left everything up to him and he turned me into a pretty good one.”
Kenny started out his career at South Carolina in the shadow of future second-round NFL Draft pick and current Minnesota Viking Sidney Rice. As a first year receiver, Kenny followed, watched and studied Rice’s every move.
“Sidney was the man before I was,” said Kenny. “He’s like my big brother. We used to room together at South Carolina and he still calls to check in on me. He even flew me out to Minnesota and I saw how much the hard work paid off. It just made me want to work that much harder. I think knowing people in the league puts me a step ahead.”
Kenny went on to make steady progress through his first two years of college. He caught 25 passes as a true freshman and then doubled that performance with 51 receptions during his sophomore campaign. But it wasn’t until the last game of his sophomore year that Kenny began to emerge into a superstar at the college level.
“Kenny’s breakout moment was the fourth quarter in the 2006 Liberty Bowl against Houston,” said Hood. “He caught two long touchdown passes. Up until then, he was just Sidney Rice’s understudy. But I think that kind of set the tone for the next two years.”
The following two years paved the way to superstardom for Kenny. He earned All-American honors his junior year and eventually set the record for most receptions and receiving yards in school history. Kenny might have racked up more records had it not been for the hamstring issues that plagued him during his senior year. Kenny missed three games because of a pulled hamstring and was less than one-hundred percent for most of the season.
“I would get down a little when I couldn’t play,” Kenny admitted. “I was always off to the side just chilling. I don’t let anyone see my emotions like that. I always felt that if you keep working hard and fight through it, something good is going to happen. I believe that. Being positive just comes natural.”
Instead of giving Kenny more time to heal, the coaching staff rushed him back out on the field, needing every superstar they could muster in the highly competitive SEC.
“I think they should have done more for my injury,” said Kenny. “They tried to rush me back and I pulled it again. They were basically just putting ice on it and trying to let it heal naturally.”
For most of the season, Kenny played through the pain and dealt with the situation as best as he could. Following strenuous afternoons of practice, which were becoming all too common, Kenny longed for a trip to the trainer’s room. But before he could take a dip in the ice tub or get some additional treatment, there was always a large media contingent eager to ask him some questions.
“There was always a lot of media covering the team,” said Hood. “This is a college football state. The players here are treated like Gods almost. They get a lot of media attention, a lot of face time on TV and all that stuff. Kenny was always very good with the media. He was one of the more enjoyable players that I got to work with on a day-to-day basis. He always had a smile on his face and he always seemed to enjoy playing football.”
Yet, behind some of those smiles was a kid who could not fend off the lingering pain that comes with a hamstring injury.
“Sometimes, I would have a bad day and not feel like interviewing,” said Kenny. “But I would always say a little something even if I didn’t feel like talking. I understand it comes with the territory. That’s just my character, I like talking to people.”
On the strength of a very frail hamstring, Kenny helped lead the Gamecocks to a 7-5 season and a trip to the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. That led South Carolina fans to Tampa, Florida where Kenny would play the final game of his college career against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Shortly before kickoff, the crowd cheered as Kenny joined his teammates for one last trip out of the tunnel.
Not too many people are able to experience the rush that comes with performing in front of 80,000 people. There aren’t many people whose simple movements can bring an audience of that size to its feet and command them to applaud, cheer, scream and rejoice simultaneously.
“You kind of get accustomed to it, but every time I come out of the tunnel, I’m like wow,” said Kenny. “Every game, I always have a little bit of butterflies. But once you get that first hit on, you’re ready to play.”
Regardless of how many fans jammed into a stadium, Kenny could always spot his family.
“I could always pick them out because they always brought an ‘I love Kenny’ sign. My father hasn’t missed one of my college games. He’s been very supportive. My family comes to as many games as they can. They’ve been very supportive ever since I was a little boy. They keep my head straight and I feel like I owe them all.”