Talent Plus Study Equals Optimistic Outlook for WVU’s Kennedy McKoy
There’s no doubt that West Virginia sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy is talented. After a stellar high school career in which he ran for almost 4,000 yards over his final two seasons, he made a near-seamless transition to the Mountaineer backfield. Playing in all 13 games, and earning two starts, he rushed for 472 yards and four scores, and added another 64 on receptions while finding the end zone one additional time. In a backfield featuring Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell, that was no small accomplishment, and speaks volumes of the natural ability that he possesses.
Entering his second season, though, McKoy might be even more dangerous. He’s learned much of what he didn’t know as a freshman, and it should make him even more productive both with and without the ball.
“I study defense more and stay in the film room,” the low key McKoy said. “I’ll know if the defensive line likes to slant or if the linebackers play aggressive.”
While running backs in general get some yards based on their moves and talent, being able to read the defense is just as important. Knowing the right path to take, picking up quickly on defensive keys and seeing blocks are just some of the things that can help turn a two-yard gain into one of four or five, or a ten-yard pickup into a breakout run. Those are skills that just don’t have time to be taught in high school, and it’s often an eye-opening experience for runners when they are exposed to defenders that are just as fast and usually bigger than they are. It’s not a learning curve that’s as massive as the ones facing quarterbacks, but there is a lot more to the college running game than just ‘get the ball and run.’
Those avenues of study come in several different manners. McKoy notes that the team gets ‘install sheets’ every day, which detail the plan for practice and the keys to work on and assimilate. There’s also that independent video study, as well as another spring and fall practice of facing college level competition in his experience portfolio.
“The game has started to slow down for me,” McKoy said, relying on the phrase that often signals an increase in comfort level and performance. “[It happened] for me transitioning into the spring we just had. I can make my reads now and get through them quicker.”
That improvement has also come in the backfield without the ball. Pass protection for backs is a key, but so too is making the decision at the right time as to when that can be abandoned for a check down or swing route out of the backfield. Make the wrong decision, and the quarterback gets blasted. Make the right one, and the defense can be exposed. McKoy feels much more comfortable in those areas of the game right now, but acknowledges that there’s more to do — including the test of live competition. He acknowledges that the beginning of full contact with live tackling during the preseason ups the intensity, but there’s no replacement for a real game and the lessons it can teach.
It hasn’t been just one area of learning for the North Carolina native, either. The best pass catcher in WVU’s crowded running back room, he’s also learning everything about the slot receiver position. The routes he runs there will be tailored to his strengths, but lining him up there or motioning him out of the backfield opens up a lot of enticing possibilities. Getting him one-on-one with a defensive back in the open field is just one of several potential advantages for the Mountaineer attack, and McKoy is looking forward to it.
“It’s a little more open space, you get to work and don’t let defender get his hands on you. It lets you be more free,” he said of the things that attract him to the slot role. “Any way coach wants me to get the ball I’m good with it.”
Once the receiving role slows down for him (and it looks like that process is well underway) McKoy could become West Virginia’s Swiss army knife on the offensive side of the ball. He knows much more now than he did when he entered the program a year ago, and is ready to show how it has made him a better player.
“Now that I know what I can do I’m ready to take off.”