Mekale McKay: Story Behind the Story

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Occasionally you find a great story idea and show up to see apparently you aren't the only insightful genius to spot the oasis in the desert. Typically, when this happens, I'll just write the story anyway and pretend no other outlet had it. 

That happened this week. Only, when the other outlet is the Enquirer and Bill Koch is on the case, competing doesn't make much sense. Certainly not in this space -- as much as I would love to have fully broken out McKay's vibrant personality.  The goal here is for the stories of the talented student-athletes to make their way to your eyes. Rather than punt the story and find something else, this one was too good to leave alone. 

I'd love for you to come here and for the most part I always trot out unique pieces. That's not always possible. 

Sometimes, however, as in this case there is even more to the story than the original story. This is where I come in. So, I'm going to piggyback on Bill's piece on McKay with even more information about this receiver who followed his heart and not his draft profile in maneuvering through his college career. Why say the same thing twice when I can add to the primary message? We the media can co-exist harmoniously, right? (Cue soft Rinaldi piano) 

First off, read Bill's story here. It's excellent. And what I'm about to tell you won't make much sense unless you do. 

Second, would like to offer what most struck me about the gist of Bill's tome and McKay's journey. 

--- How many times do we see the story about the selfish college athlete, the ugliness of the NCAA plus the despicable coaches and administration supposedly attempting to impede their development? Blocked transfers, criminal behavior, suspensions, connections to agents, money, money, money. It dominates every offseason (Manziel anyone?) and consistently sullies the view of college athletics. 

Yet, here were four parties -- McKay, Arkansas, NCAA, UC -- able to work together and realize the true intent and necessity in the life of a student-athlete. Bert Bielema and the Razorbacks (where McKay was their top returning receiver) happily granted McKay his full release. 

"He didn't want me to leave, he told me that, but some things are bigger than other things," McKay said of Bielema. "He helped me tremendously. I still appreciate him to this day and thank him for all he did for me." 

And here's the NCAA, which allowed him to not have to sit out a year, because they realized this was about a 20-year-old kid trying to put family first. The NCAA takes a number of shots nationally -- many deserved -- but in this case they very much did the correct thing allowing McKay to play and give memories like Saturday at Nippert Stadium to this grandson and his "granny."

Thank you, common sense and values, for prevailing in a landscape where they rarely do. 

--- Tommy Tuberville admitted as much when talking about the acquisition of McKay, who he refers to as a "next-level" talent, the Bearcats got lucky with this one. Tuberville will shoot you straight. He speaks how he honestly sees it, good, bad or indifferent. In the nine months since we've known him, I've never heard him reference the NFL with any of this current players. Until now. That's how good McKay is and in particular, how good he can be. 

McKay admits when he knew he needed to leave Arkansas to be closer to his grandmother, he had a few schools to choose from. Any within a quick drive of Louisville. Credit UC for taking advantage of their fortunate geography. 

"I didn't know where I was going to be landing, Louisville, Cincinnati, I didn't know where. I just kind of went with the flow. It was awesome how I ran into the coaches, they knew about me and when they seen the film and when we met in person it came to blank. When you know good people and you see good people who are going to help you out for your best interest, it's kind of easy."

--- I'm just going to rerun this quote from McKay, who I repeat, put his personal NFL aspirations and an opportunity to be the top receiver as a sophomore on an SEC team on the back burner to be with his 57-year-old grandmother. 

This, folks, is a good kid. 

"When you grow up with your grandmother, you are kind of protective of her. You grow up with her as a mom and a dad and her age is something that plays a big role. I'm a 'grandmother's boy,' I'm not a 'mama's boy.' I love her with all my heart, man. I'm so happy she gets to come to my home games and see me play."

Obviously, the first person McKay looked to spot during Saturday's game when he caught his first UC touchdown was his grandmother. Here's his version of that moment. 

"I seen her, I looked in the stands and made eye contact. It was a great feeling." 

--- As for what will make McKay a scary player for the next level, he needs to put on weight. His frame is already intimidating at 6-foot-6, but at 195 pounds he doesn't threaten push corners around at the line of scrimmage. Tuberville and the strength staff plan to change that. 

"They want me to get as big as I can stand," McKay said. "Right now I lift before practice and after practice. It's really helping me with getting stronger and being able to dominate  my opponent. It's getting easier and easier the more I work."

The current plan is to put about 20 more pounds of muscle on his body by next year. How many 6-6, 215 pound former basketball players with soft hands do you know? I bet most of them have a nice NFL contract. 

--- And oh yeah, in case you didn't know, McKay very easily could've have been starring next door at Fifth Third Arena. Mick Cronin and UC actually were among the teams to offer him a scholarship offer coming out of high school in Louisville. 

"I come back to thinking about basketball a lot, but those were my older days I kind of left that behind me," he said. "It was something about playing football and I picked that as my first sport. Basketball, I could have played on at Arkansas I just chose to seek my football chances." 

Hard to believe granny didn't try to weigh in on pushing him to the safer sport of basketball over football. 

"Granny didn't care about what sport I was playing," McKay said. "Only thing granny cared about was getting a degree." 

Smart woman. 

I want to hear from you! Have any comments, questions or suggestions shoot me an email to or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

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