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Javon McKinley bounces back

| Friday, November 22, 2019

Heading into this season, senior wide receiver Javon McKinley had much to prove. McKinley was recruited to Notre Dame as one of the most prolific wideouts in the country out of Centennial High School but the Corona, California native faced significant setbacks as he began his time in blue and gold.

Despite facing such adversity, Irish wide receivers coach Del Alexander spoke highly of McKinley’s development as this season approached.

Kendra Osinski | The Observer
Irish wide receiver Javon McKinley picks up a block during Notre Dame’s 52-0 over Bowling Green on Oct. 5 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think he’s done things from the ground up,” coach Alexander said in regards to McKinley’s improvement throughout the spring and summer in an article by Fighting Irish Wire. “I think that there’s a part of him where he improved on his demeanor, he improved on his communication, the look in his eye, his walk down the hallway and his attention to detail in the meeting is totally different. You respect that because he’s seen his setbacks, but now he’s in the position to help us.”

For McKinley, football has been a constant in his life from a young age.

“I started playing football when I was six years old, I played flag and from there on. I just kind of worked my way out from center because I was a bigger kid and then guard, tackle, and finally receiver,” McKinley said. “I finally realized my junior year in high school that I was good enough of a player to play at the next level, and I was big on academics and football of course, and I chose Notre Dame in the end as my place to go.”

McKinley stressed that the education is what sold him to the University.

“A lot of it was the academics at Notre Dame. I feel like a lot of teams across the country are really good, Notre Dame especially is one of them, but Notre Dame definitely separates themselves as a combination with academics and athletics and that’s something I really wanted to get into, and that’s why I chose it.”

As a freshman, McKinley and the Irish went through a disappointing 4-8 season, and the receiver credits much of that failure to a lack of a team identity.

“We didn’t have an identity, I believe, my freshman year, it was just kind of like ‘Oh we got a game this week, oh we got a game this week’ like whatever, and then after Coach Kelly brought in the new staff, and especially Coach Balis and his mindset turning around the whole program,” McKinley said.  

For McKinley, the results of the past two and a half years are a direct result of that change of mindset.

“I think from there we finally found an identity of what we wanted to be for the season coming up and that turned into 10-3 the following year, 12-0 last year and then right now 8-2. So definitely a big turnaround, I’m definitely proud of the team and especially my class and how we’ve grown.”

The 6-foot-2 star athlete suffered a season-ending broken leg injury toward the end of his freshman year that forced him to sit out his entire sophomore season. Afterward, McKinley struggled to get onto the field and find his role on the depth chart. Then this past February, McKinley’s name was in the headlines again after being arrested due to an incident with campus police officers. Since McKinley’s record was clean, he made the necessary retributions and then was able to get a second chance. McKinley attributes much of his success to the leadership of his parents.

He also had some keen reflections on his college experience.

“College definitely has taught me a lot since the day I got here, school wise, athletically, and then just being a good person on and off the field. I feel like college is definitely a place to learn more about yourself, what your interests are, and what you want to do with your life,” McKinley said.

Despite the adversity he’s faced at times, McKinley reiterated that he has no regrets about picking the Irish four years ago.

“And definitely along with college, football and that side you learn a lot with managing your time, and how to be productive during this amount of time, and focusing on something else the next amount of time, and that’s just the special combination you can get at Notre Dame, and I’m really glad I chose to come here,” he said.

McKinley also had some great role models on the field that he was able to look up to as a young player.

“One definitely was Torii Hunter Jr., my freshman year he was just like the “old head” like the dad for the receivers he always would talk to the receivers and just tell us how to be mentally off the field when things aren’t going your way how you should react,” McKinley said. “Another guy was CJ Sanders, who is a grad transfer and went somewhere else, but him same thing, just how to carry yourself and how to see the good in the situation, take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you and I just capitalized on that and waited for the opportunities to be given to me and just had to capitalize.”

This season, McKinley has made a jump to the next level. He currently has 11 catches for 268 yards and four scores. His four touchdowns are the third most out of the receivers and the 268 yards are fourth best on the team. With two games still yet to play, McKinley is still looking for more.

McKinley’s best career memory at Notre Dame was his first touchdown catch, which was nothing short of spectacular and played out exactly as he imagined it would, evading multiple tackles to find the end zone. The touchdown was one of two that McKinley scored in this season’s home opening rout of New Mexico.

“Mine would probably be my first touchdown. I always like replay it to myself, just in the game doing everything I can right, and I always thought ‘I wonder if I could score in front of the student section for my first touchdown’, and it ended up working that way so that’s definitely my best memory here,” Javon McKinley

Outside of football, you can find Javon at the alley working on his craft.

“I like bowling. Me and my friend, we both have like a little rivalry going on with bowling on who can be better every time we play,” he said. “So, off time during the spring when I have more time with practice, both of us individually when we go home we’ll have a little competition, a little betting game on who can get the higher score.”

As of right now, McKinley is still undecided about the future. While he can graduate after this year, he also has a year of eligibility left if he wants to come back. For the Irish, McKinley’s experiences both on and off the field are invaluable in terms of being able to coach the young guys just as he was coached as a young guy himself. 

In the end, McKinley summed up his Notre Dame experience quite effectively — “The biggest takeaway from my Notre Dame experience: how to work hard, how to carry yourself, how to be a good person to other people.”

About Grant DelVecchio

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