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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame's McKinley blocks all obstacles

October 8, 2020
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The highlight clip is beautiful to a football purist.

 

It is Notre Dame's 2020 season-opening win against Duke, and an Fighting Irish wide receiver is making a pivotal play.

Javon McKinley shoves his Duke defender and would-be-tackler of tailback Kyren Williams three yards into the Notre Dame sideline.

In a seconds-long clip, the essence of McKinley's role crystalizes. To catch passes at Notre Dame, one first must give himself up in blocking service of others.

“I think it goes back to a few years to what you had to do to get on the field and that was block,” says McKinley, a fifth-year senior and spring 2020 Notre Dame graduate. “If you can block on the field, they'll look at you and give you a shot. I think over the years building that mindset as being a good blocker will get you chances to get the ball thrown to you.

“That's what led to my contributions this season in my blocking and just trying to get to that consistent level.”

McKinley is, somewhat surprisingly, the elder statesman of a rebuilt Irish pass-catching corps. Through two games, receptions among the group are scarce; 11 total for just 114 yards, one touchdown.

Still, coach Brian Kelly points to the example McKinley supplies.

“He's our veteran guy and I think when you have a guy that has been around as a fifth-year that is setting that kind of standard and model, it rubs off on all the other guys,” says Kelly, who leads the No. 5 Irish (2-0, 2-0 ACC) Saturday night against visiting Florida State (1-2, 0-2 ACC). “He's influencing Jordan (Johnson) and Xavier (Watts) and setting a great example, and we just got to continue to do that with everybody.

“Then we got to continue to get him involved in the offense as well."

Patience likely isn't a comprehensive enough term to surmise McKinley's wait for a greater role in the Notre Dame offense. An U.S. Army All-American and consensus four-star upon signing with the Irish in 2016, McKinley's career totals for the Irish – 12 catches, 275 yards, four touchdowns from last season – read more like a game in McKinley's prep career.

His Notre Dame bio even notes McKinley threw two passes for Centennial High School (Corona, Calif.), and both went for touchdowns.

All this while a year ago McKinley admits his uncertainty about even returning to the Irish for the 2020 campaign.

“I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do at that point while I was still nursing the injury and trying to get back,” McKinley says, “but I would say definitely in October I made the mindset that I definitely want to come back and give myself a chance to build a better resume and take a chance on the (NFL).

“I did not do well expressing that to the coaches at first, but giving them what my mindset was and explaining my contribution and them taking a chance on me and bringing me back, I definitely appreciate that. And it's gotten me to the point that I am and i'm going to continue to make the best of the opportunity.”

As the Irish return from three weeks without a game on the heels of the team's COVID-19 outbreak resulting in 30 positive tests last month, McKinley shares his mindset in this season's suspended animation; wondering if perhaps his circuitous journey to a position of group leadership might end almost as quickly as the season's start.

“It was difficult to hear about that and as we got shut down, I was thinking if that was it for the season,” McKinley says. “If we weren't going to be able to get a chance to play again, practice again and I didn't really know how to react to the situation.

“I just went through the thought-process of I can focus on my schoolwork, I can keep my body in shape for hopefully the day we do come back and practice.”

 
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