Gage McKinney: A Senior’s Perspective

Published 9:40 am Tuesday, November 15, 2022

By Ron Marvel
Star Correspondent
Last Friday night saw high school football come to a screeching halt for Carter County. For the overwhelming majority of these “boys of fall,” this means no more Friday night lights, no more two-a-days, no more locker room moments, no more pre-game meals, simply put, no more. August of next year will come around and so will the high school football season, but that chapter of their lives is over. Unlike baseball or basketball, kids who desire to play those sports can find that outlet. A local rec league or church league, that possibility does not really exist in football. That last “pop” of putting on your chin strap has come and gone. I recently caught up with one of those Seniors, Gage McKinney, who was a Senior tailback/quarterback at Cloudland Highschool. Gage had a very successful senior season rushing for over 2600 yards and multiple games where he had over 400 yards. When we met, his final game, a loss to Oliver Springs High School, had just taken place, so all of it was still fresh in his mind. This is his perspective on the end of his high school career.
 Star: So, have you made a college commitment yet?
McKinney: No, not yet; I have had some interest but no offers yet; I am thinking about ETSU.
Star: I have heard from Coach Benfield; Maryville is on your list as well. What would it be like to play with Bryson Rollins or Cory Russel?
McKinney: Oh yeah and Eli Preswood I played with him the year before he had his number retired, he is a good buddy and has been talking to me about playing down there, in some ways it would be easier going somewhere I know people instead of meeting new people. I would already have my foot in the door there.
Star: I saw some pics on your mom’s Facebook page what age did you start playing, were you 6 or 7 years old?
McKinney: No! I was four when I started playing right before we turned into Mighty Mites.
Star: So, you have had that Blue and Gold on your entire life?
McKinney: Well, actually, I started at Happy Valley and played two years at Hampton.
Star: But I know you have had the Blue and Gold on for most of the time; what has that meant to you?
McKinney: It means a lot when you go to school here and see all the hard work, the dedication from the people that work here; it shows in our teachers, Zac (Coach Benfield), Mr. Wilson, who went here and played at ETSU and another school, Noah Arnett who also played college ball at Wingate, he was always nice to me, when I came here.
Star: Going into the 2022 season, did you have any personal goals?
McKinney: No, just to do the best we could with what we had here.
Star: Any idea your workload was going to be so heavy?
McKinney: (chuckling) No idea, especially after my first game against Happy Valley.
Star: Coach Benfield said this class would be one best remembered for pushing past obstacles and challenges when you hear him say that, what are your thoughts?
McKinney: Yeah! We went through all of them, from injuries to not having the numbers, to people quitting on us, to people not always believing in us; it was tough sometimes!
Star: You came into Friday night winning four games in a row, a lot of confidence going into the Oliver Springs game when did you know it was not going to work out for you?
McKinney: We had a lot of momentum going into the fourth quarter, but when Baker, our center, snapped it over my head, which wasn’t his fault he had been out most of the season with an injury and had never played the position before he is really in there just trying to help us out, our regular center was out with a concussion, and the weather was awful, but when that ball went over my head I knew it was over. They get the ball back on the next play and ran it for a touchdown and that was it. If we score right there, I honestly believe we win.
Star:  You are facing a situation where you know your high school career is over; what is going through your mind?
McKinney: I knew I was going to miss high school football, but after this year, I knew I had given it everything I had every time I had stepped on the field. It was important to me to have no regrets, being recognized this year; the awards have been nice, but all I wanted was to go further to have another game; they (Oliver Springs) were beatable.
Star: What about that moment when you had to take off that wet jersey?
McKinney: I don’t like thinking about that. [His head and shoulder dropped as I asked this question, so I decided not to pressure a more in-depth response]
Star: What have the coaches meant to you here?
McKinney: They have meant the world to me; Zac (Coach Benfield) is one of my best friends; we have had a lot of changes, but Coach Benfield has done a great job here. He went to the fourth round last year. I know he feels as though he didn’t have the best year this year but with what we had to go through, I thought he did a great job! We never doubted him and did what he said. We did the best we could with what we had this year.
Star: Stat-wise, you are going to be one of the best tailbacks to come through this school what do you want them to say about you and this team years from now?
McKinney: Resilience, my best friend Silas Burleson says, “we will bend, but we won’t break” we may have bent but we never broke
Star: Next year, when a freshman is in your spot in the locker room, what would you tell him?
McKinney:  Cherish it; play with all you got! You’re going to mess up; focus on the next play Listen to your coaches they are trying to help you and not hurt you. Give everything you have for Cloudland because they will give you everything they have. Everyone here is good people. This is a great community I am going to miss that the most.

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