Standout Freshman Receiver Brings Size and Speed
When Mekale McKay moved to Louisville, Ky., from Texas, he quickly got the nickname “Tex” from his teammates and coaches.
The saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and McKay is no exception to the rule. He arrived at Moore Traditional School as an eighth grader already standing six feet, four inches.
In Louisville, Ky., middle schools have competitive eighth grade 7-on-7 flag football teams. McKay’s size and athleticism allowed him to make an immediate impact for Moore’s team, which was lead by head coach Bob Johnson.
“He did some phenomenal things in flag football,” Johnson said. “He was pretty much unstoppable.”
After leading the eighth grade team to a district championship, McKay joined the high school varsity team and played quarterback and wide receiver as a freshman.
Johnson thought that McKay would eventually be a quarterback because he had a “tremendous arm.” The summer following McKay’s freshman year, Johnson took him to several football camps, including the University of Tennessee camp.
At Tennessee’s camp, former Tennessee and current Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin thought highly of McKay’s performance. The University of Louisville and its former head coach Steve Kragthorpe were “nuts about him,” as well, Johnson said.
However, before his sophomore season, McKay transferred to Seneca High School and was declared ineligible to play football. He transferred back to Moore in time to play basketball that school year, but by then, Johnson had resigned and taken the athletic director position at Western High School in Louisville, Ky.
The next two seasons Johnson was forced to watch McKay from the opposite sideline. Last year, Johnson said McKay “single-handedly” beat Western.
“He’s a great kid,” Johnson said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, and when I saw him play as a freshman, I knew then that he had the capability to play (Division I football).”
Initially, McKay committed to the University of Texas at El Paso, but he was “better than UTEP,” Johnson said.
While at Moore, McKay also played basketball, which probably hurt him in recruiting for football, said Richard Davenport, “The Recruiting Guy” for ARPreps.com.
“Because Mekale played spring and summer basketball, he wasn’t able to go to any camps or combines to get noticed,” Davenport said. “Everyone was basing everything off of his high school film.”
With only film, Scout.com ranked McKay the 110th best receiver in the country and gave him three stars. He also received a three-star rating for basketball.
During the recruiting process, he decommitted to UTEP and attended camps at Cincinnati and Kentucky and visited Ole Miss and Houston. His third and final visit was to Arkansas.
By then, he had grown into his current 6’6” 190 lb. frame, but Razorback fans were clamoring for the number one, five-star recruit from Springfield, Mo., Dorial Green-Beckham. When Green-Beckham chose Missouri over Arkansas, the news of McKay signing with the Razorbacks went relatively under the radar.
“No doubt Arkansas would’ve loved to land (Green-Beckham) and that was a big disappointment, but Mekale has excellent size, speed and a great vertical,” Davenport said. “He should be a great player in time. He has all the tools needed.”
McKay came to Arkansas and was in the mix for a starting position during preseason practices. He ultimately earned the third wide receiver starting position and started against Jacksonville State in week one.
“I thought Mekale had a good chance to play, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking he would start,” Davenport said. “That tells you he’s a great competitor and has a strong desire to play.”
He caught his first collegiate pass in the week one game with Jacksonville State. Since then, he has increased his season totals to 13 receptions for 193 yards. Against ULM, McKay caught his first and only collegiate touchdown.
His work ethic and talent has even been noticed by his teammates, including fellow wide receiver senior Cobi Hamilton.
“He’s a heck of a player and he’s young,” Hamilton said. “He’s going to develop to make big plays, that’s just the kind of player he is.”
This week, he may have to step up and carry some of the load against Tulsa. Senior tight end Chris Gragg will not play because of a knee injury and junior wide receiver Brandon Mitchell will not play because of a violation of team rules.
“I’m sure he’ll fill in the role,” Hamilton said. “That’s just how this Arkansas team has been built.”
Whether he has a breakout game against Tulsa or not, Johnson knows McKay will become a star player at some point.
“I coached for 34 years and you only come across a player like Mekale occasionally,” Johnson said. “He is special.”