November 1, 2007

Pressed into action

Half way through the season, Josh McKinley had no reason to believe he'd be playing in his first year in West Lafayette.

He hadn't even sniffed the field, not even in those early season games when freshmen often see a few snaps only to be pulled back to redshirt.

But when safety Torri Williams's season ended in Week 7, then Williams' backup, Brandon Erwin, was felled the following game, McKinley had his number called.

"When they said it was time to play, I just had to change my mindset from scout team to playing with the defense," McKinley said. "That's all it was, just getting ready to play against top Division I athletes."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound rookie got in during Purdue's win over Northwestern Saturday, playing about 10 snaps on defense and several more on special teams; he was on the kickoff and punt coverage units. On D, he was the six defensive back in Purdue's dime package.

"He's plays with a lot of confidence," senior safety Justin Scott said. "… If you do that, things are always going to be good.
"Down the road, he's going to be really good."

Secondary coach Lou Anarumo says McKinley can expect to see his playing time increase.

"He's been pushed into action a little bit," Anarumo said. "We're going to try to ease him in. The number of reps will go up each week as he feels more comfortable."

You couldn't have blamed McKinley if he resisted being pressed into action, considering he - barring injury in coming seasons - loses an opportunity for a fifth year. He'll only get to play in five of 13 games this season.

"You think about it," McKinley said. "Of course, it'd be good to have that extra year, but I'm a team player. So if the team needs me to step up I have to do that. I can't say no."

It's no wonder that when the season began McKinley was thought to be a prime redshirt candidate. Last season, at Leander High School in Leander, Tex., McKinley played primarily quarterback, though he spent some time in the secondary. The year before, he lined up at safety and wide receiver.

"So (safety) wasn't completely foreign," he said.

Recruited as an athlete, the two-star prospect picked the Boilermakers over Colorado State and Iowa State, among others. When McKinley arrived at Purdue, he had to choose what position he wanted to play.

"They gave me a choice of whether to play quarterback or safety," McKinley said. "I chose to play safety, because I wanted to be on the defensive side of the ball to make big plays and make bit hits."

McKinley says he's trying to learn as much as possible from Williams, a fellow Leander High graduate who was his recruiting host on his official visit to Purdue. Now, McKinley's playing, at least to some extent, because of Williams' injury.

"It is kind of weird, but Torri Williams is a great guy," McKinley said. "When I came up here, he showed me the ropes and informed me on everything. Before I played, I had a conversation with him that night and he said 'just relax, go out there and play your best. It will be fine, have fun.' I respect him and thank him a lot for everything."

Early, it appears McKinley has the tools to be a solid safety: Because of his size, he's an able tackler who like the contact. Anarumo says McKinley won't shy away from a hit.

"I like to hit, always try to make the big hit," McKinley said. "But you can't always make the big hit as a safety 'cause you're going to miss tackles. So you have to break down and make the tackle; that's most important.

"Because I played quarterback, I feel I can recognize things faster. But I can always improve on everything. I don't believe I'm fast enough, quick enough, strong enough, so I just have to improve on all that stuff."

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