May 14, 2008

McKinley's Return Pleases Spurrier

Steve Spurrier was clearly irked when former All-SEC wide receiver Sidney Rice departed South Carolina for a career in pro football following the 2006 season with two years of eligibility remaining.

As a result, Spurrier discouraged USC fans attending this year's just completed Gamecock Club tour from clapping at the mention of Rice's name.

Kenny McKinley, however, is a different story.

McKinley, together with middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, has won Spurrier's admiration and gratitude by deciding to return for his senior season rather than declaring for the NFL Draft.

"Historically, since I've been here and I think before, any player that could go to the NFL would haul butt as fast as they could," Spurrier said. "But these two guys have elected to stay at Carolina because they're smart enough to realize the importance of graduating. They also know they'll have a home to come back to."

In exchange for foregoing the riches of a pro football contract, McKinley should leave USC as the most productive wide receiver in school history.

McKinley established a school single season record with a SEC-leading 77 receptions in 2007, and now stands just 16 behind Sterling Sharpe (169) for the all-time career mark.

He had a team-high 968 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Besides total receptions, he also led the SEC in receptions per game (6.42) and receiving yards per game (80.7). His nine touchdowns tied for second in the league.

McKinley has already been named to the Playboy pre-season All-America team, undoubtedly the first of several such honors to follow.

McKinley had 36 catches, nearly one-half his total, in the final four games, including a career-high 14 receptions against Tennessee.

McKinley sat out the entire spring with a toe injury, but should be 100 percent when fall camp opens in early August. He'll enter the 2008 season with a 33-game reception streak and needs a single catch in the Aug. 28 season opener against N.C. State to match the school record of 34 straight games with a catch held jointly by Sharpe and Jermale Kelly.

After being indefinitely suspended following his arrest on misdemeanor charges shortly before the start of spring practice, sophomore Dion Lecorn was reinstated in time for the first workout on March 19.

The Ocala, Fla. native enjoyed a solid spring and had three receptions for 51 yards in the spring game. He should enter fall camp as the clear-cut favorite to claim the number two WR role behind McKinley.

Lecorn had 27 receptions last season - two more than McKinley had as a freshman - and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. All of his catches came in the final eight games. He had sixteen receptions in the final three games.

Veterans like juniors Freddie Brown and Moe Brown showed signs in the spring they're ready to start making significant contributions.

Freddie Brown had 17 receptions as a sophomore in 2008, giving him 31 for his career. Brown has developed into a reliable third receiver with medium-range capabilities.

Moe Brown struggled last season until the final three games when he collected eight of his 13 receptions. Brown has 22 career catches.
"The second position is still open," Moe Brown said. "Dion did a phenomenal job, but with me being a junior, outside of Freddie Brown, I'm the most experienced receiver here. Naturally, I think it's my position to have. I'm going to keep working hard. There's no way in the world we shouldn't have one of the best receiving corps in the nation this season."
Larry Freeman finished with just two receptions for 30 yards in 2007, but a jolt of confidence from his success on special teams has seemingly lifted him up as a wide receiver too.
Freeman won the Outstanding Special Teams Player award for the spring largely because of his knack for blocking punts. His success on special teams carried over to wide receiver.
"Larry was down on the depth chart at wide receiver and then we started using him on some special teams. He had a knack for blocking kicks," Special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said. "All of a sudden, he had some confidence and then he started playing well at wide receiver."

Matt Clements was caught up in the Lecorn matter, but he was also reinstated to the team before the start of spring practice. He redshirted last season.

Following the move of Chris Culliver and Mark Barnes to safety, Jason Barnes and Joseph Hills are probably the two most heralded wide receiver prospects left from the 2007 signing class.

True freshman Charles Whitlock, one of the top players in the Palmetto State during the last recycling cycle, showed flashes of being able to contribute early.

But, as Spurrier has pointed out, Whitlock still has a lot to learn before he steps onto the field in a game this fall.

"Charles has a lot of talent but he still needs to learn to play at a lot faster pace," Spurrier said. "So, hopefully, we can get him moving quicker and faster. I don't know if he'll be ready this year. He might be."

USC signed one wide receiver in this year's recruiting class - D.L. Moore of Bowling Green, Ky. - giving the Gamecocks 10 scholarship wide receivers in the fall.

Moore, tall and lanky at 6-foot-4 and 178 pounds, was the Most Valuable Player on his high school team as a senior with a school record 63 receptions for 1,350 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 21.4 yards per catch.

The USC coaches hope he can stretch the field like that when he joins the Gamecock program this summer.

Except for McKinley and Lecorn, the wide receiver position struggled to find consistency last season. Only four of USC's top 11 pass catchers in 2007 were wideouts. The other seven included three tight ends, two running backs and two fullbacks.

With fewer deep threats, USC featured a shorter passing game last season. The Gamecocks averaged 12.0 yards per completion in 2007 compared to 13.4 yards in 2006, a 10.4 percent reduction.

Jason Barnes
Moe Brown
Freddie Brown
Matt Clements
Larry Freeman
Paul Haile**
Joseph Hills
Dion Lecorn
Kenny McKinley
D.L. Moore
Charles Whitlock

** Walk-on Player

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