Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney announced Wednesday he'll return to school for his junior season. Photo by: FILE PHOTO/MSU athletics
January 15, 2014 7:13:42 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State sophomore Benardrick McKinney confirmed Wednesday what his head coach always suspected in the first place.
McKinney, the Bulldogs starting middle linebacker, announced he would be returning to Starkville for his junior season and not declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft in April.
"I wanted to stay another year to better myself as a man, better myself as an athlete and get closer to my degree," McKinney said Wednesday in a video interview with hailstate.com. "
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told The Dispatch via text on New Year's Day he was disregarding any online reports McKinney wouldn't be back for the 2014 season. Several online reports surfaced a day after MSU's 44-7 victory in the Liberty Bowl over Rice suggesting the third-year sophomore would not be returning to MSU. However, McKinney was in attendance for the first team meeting at the Seal Family Football Complex on Jan. 10 making it more apparent he would be returning for his junior season.
The official deadline for college underclassmen players to declare for the draft was Wednesday.
McKinney was asked by The Dispatch directly while at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., and he declined get specific with his plans for handling the situation in the days after the bowl game against Rice. MSU went on to defeat the Conference USA champions in the game 44-7 on New Year's Eve.
"The NFL is a dream of mine and that sounds good in all but I really think I need to improve as a football player," McKinney said on Dec. 29 during Liberty Bowl media availability.
McKinney, MSU's leading tackler from the 2013 season, is eligible to turn professional as he redshirted his first year on the Starkville campus. Therefore, McKinney would be three years removed from his high school graduation but the only prominent Southeastern Conference redshirt sophomore to declare for the draft was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. It is unclear whether McKinney filed evaluation paperwork with the NFL Draft advisory committee to gauge his stock in this upcoming draft process. Players can submit their paperwork to the committee and they will privately return to that player with a likely round the player can anticipate being selected along with specific strengths and weakness in that player's current skill set.
"What we do is we wait, we get the paperwork back, we sit down with the players and families and try to give them the best advice possible," Mullen said in 2012 when asked about the process for his underclassmen. "Look at (former MSU cornerback and second round selection) Johnthan Banks - he and I spent a lot of time talking about that, had the opportunity to come back, and he's done something special."
McKinney easily led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks from his middle linebacker position after being selected to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference third team by the league coaches.
With McKinney returns to the MSU program from his junior season, MSU is expected to have eight starters returning on that side of the ball. The Bulldogs are only projected to lose linebacker Deonte Skinner, defensive lineman Kaleb Eulls and safety Nickoe Whitley to graduation.
"We got everybody coming back on defense and with more experience, we should be a much better defense in 2014," McKinney said.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.