If there’s a more versatile player in the Southern Conference than Jerick McKinnon, he’s yet to surface.
Samford running back Fabian Truss is one multi-dimensional player who comes to mind. The Bulldogs star, who will face McKinnon and Georgia Southern at 6 p.m. on Saturday night at Paulson Stadium, is third in the conference in rushing with 112 yards per game.
Truss is also fourth in the nation in kick return yardage at 34.82 per game, and he has caught 12 passes for 75 yards.
“Truss is a terrific player,” Eagle Coach Jeff Monken said. “He’s one of the best, if not the best, kick returners in the nation.”
But, it’s a safe bet to say Monken would rather have McKinnon on his side.
McKinnon is a Jack-Of-All-Trades as evidenced by his performance in last Saturday’s 26-23 win over Elon.
Against the Phoenix the Marietta (Sprayberry) junior had a season high 96 yards rushing on 16 carries while playing quarterback, B-back and slotback. He is also, along with J.J. Wilcox, one of the Eagles’ deep return men on kickoffs.
“We’ve played him in several different places,” Monken said of McKinnon. “I think he’s one of our best athletes. He’s a fast, physical player, and he’s fairly elusive in the open field.
“I think he does a good job when he’s in the game with the football and without it. He threw a block to spring (Johnathan Bryant) for a long touchdown to start the second half.
“I think he can help our football team a lot of different ways. We try to put him in a position where he can help us.”
The play Monken was referring to was Bryant’s 78-yard run down the left sideline for a touchdown to forge a 13-13 tie following a mistake-riddled first half.
“I got a block and JB just took off,” McKinnon said. “I just try to go in and help the team make a big play whether I have the ball in my hands or not. You don’t have to touch the ball every play to make it seem like you’re doing something. We’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays, and JB is one of them. It’s just as satisfying to make a play that helps us score a touchdown as it is to score one.”
McKinnon is currently 10th in the SoCon in rushing with 64.3 yards per game, one of three Eagles in the top 10. Quarterback Ezayi Youyoute is second at 123.7, and B-back Dominique Swope is sixth at 88.
Last year McKinnon played in 13 games, starting seven. He threw, ran and caught a touchdown pass, but it was what he did in the playoffs that was as memorable as anything he did during the regular season.
Without any prior playing time at defensive back he played the three playoff games in the secondary, and wound up with two interceptions as the Eagles advanced to the semifinals for the second-straight year.
As a freshman he played both quarterback and wide receiver. In a 20-0 win over The Citadel he ran 35 times for 184 yards in relief of Jaybo Shaw who went out early with an injury.
“Not a lot of guys can play a lot of positions, and play them effectively,” Monken said. “One of the things is being able to spend time learning a lot of the fundamental details.
“We try to keep him based at quarterback so he knows and understands the quarterback position, which he does. Mitch (quarterbacks coach Mitch Ware) coaches those guys so they know all the moving parts. Jerick has a feel and understanding with what goes on each play, and all the different positions. I think that helps him when he moves from quarterback to slot and other positions. Jerick figures things out pretty fast. He’s pretty savvy as an athlete in terms of being able to take on the role of the position he plays. He masters the fundamentals pretty quickly.”