Notre Dame commit McKinney has found a home in secondary

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

When R.J. Bond arrived as the defensive coordinator at South Oak Cliff High in Dallas a few years ago, one of the young players he spied as having the potential to switch from offense to defense was a freshman wide receiver named Prentice McKinney.

Bond, who doubles as the secondary coach, saw myriad things that he liked — ball skills, speed, range and physicality in terms of blocking among them.

McKinney made the transition to defense prior to his sophomore season, but Bond could sense that season that, while McKinney’s body was in the secondary, his mind was still on the other side of the ball.

“Probably that whole first season, he was still fighting within himself that he’s a receiver,” Bond said. “He was still of the mindset, ‘I’m a receiver, I’m playing DB basically to help the team and so I can get on the field.’ That was kind of the mindset.”

That mindset changed the following year, during the spring and summer of 2013.

“One day at practice the boy came downhill and hit somebody,” Bond said, “and it was over.”

A year later, in March, McKinney’s recruitment was over as he picked Notre Dame from an impressive offer list that included Michigan, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound McKinney is aware that he has the reputation of being a physical guy, but downplays being an enforcer.

"I just play the game," he said, "and get the job done."

Last year, his work output included 69 tackles, six interceptions, 18 pass breakups, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries on a South Oak Cliff squad teeming with Division I talent.

Bond said that 13 players on the team have D-I offers, including six of the eight defensive backs he has at his disposal.

It’s something that can make a position coach look really good.

“Or it makes you a bad coach if you give up a touchdown pass,” Bond quipped.

With the talent assembled in the secondary — and across the board for that matter — South Oak Cliff is poised for a big season. Last year’s defense allowed just 241 yards per game, with McKinney being a big part of that.

McKinney does not run track, but Bond said his time in the 40-yard dash sits in the 4.55-second range.

“I think he can improve on that,” Bond said. “You can see his quickness has improved.”

Bond identified a number of qualities in McKinney that make him a valuable secondary asset — knowledge of the game (McKinney is also in the top 15 of his class), length and his ability to help on run defense.

“He can be a missile coming down that alley for run support,” Bond said.

McKinney, although not a Baltimore fan, identified former Ravens Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as players he admired.

“It’s just the way they play,” McKinney said.

Bond selected Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor as a guy that McKinney reminds him of, offering that McKinney can be described as a “bully” in the secondary.

It’s something Bond began to see last year, and he hasn’t stopped seeing it since.

“He got that taste of blood,” Bond said, “and it’s been on ever since.”

Bob Wieneke: 574-235-6428 | Twitter: @BWienekeNDI

Dallas South Oak Cliff's Prentice McKinney, right, celebrates with a teammate after a fumble recovery during a game last season. McKinney, a safety, committed to Notre Dame in March. (Dallas Morning News/LOUIS DELUCA)