Takkarist McKinley: From Richmond To Riches

McKinley holding up a photo of his grandmother, Myrtle Collins (Via Matt Rourke/AP)

Takkarist McKinley is a beast. A monster, a menace on the field. He had 16.5 sacks in his short UCLA career, including 10 in 2016. Takk forced 6 fumbles in 3 years, and deflected 10 passes. He had 99 tackles, 61 in 2016, and 28 for loss.

He had no father growing up. He had no mother growing up. His mother, Tedgela Mitchell, walked out when he was 5. He never met his father. He grew up in Richmond, California, one of the most dangerous cities in the nation at the time. Spending sleepless nights on the floor of an overcrowded house helped to create his major anger issues. He would fight kids in fifth grade; he would cuss out police. But he could always find refuge in one person: his grandma, Myrtle Collins. She was the one who raised him, the one who shaped him into the man he is today. And of course, used the football field to take out his anger.

The Atlanta Falcons made a home run pick in Takk. They traded up with Seattle to select the rusher, and he fills a large void that the Falcons currently have at defensive end. Vic Beasley has developed into a star during his first two years in the league. He racked up a staggering 15.5 sacks last season. The Falcons need another rusher to play across from Beasley and take some of the pressure off of him. McKinley should be able to fill this role very well.

He rushed to the hospital on July 4, 2011. His cousin, Sylvester Wiggins, told him grandma might not make it. When he arrived at the hospital to Myrtle Collins on her death bed, he broke down in tears. the last thing he said to her was, “I’m going to make this promise for you. I’m gonna play division one football, get out of Richmond, and I’m gonna make something for myself.” Minutes later, she closed her eyes and passed away.

“He’s one of the toughest players I have been around” says UCLA head coach Jim Mora about McKinley. “He’s a tough sucker. He’s a gritty dude.” UCLA linebacker and teammate of McKinley, Jayon Brown, has a lot of praises McKinley’s ability on the field, boldly exclaiming “I don’t think anyone can block him in the country.” McKinley’s toughness and grit will certainly be very welcome in the NFL.

He knew he had to focus on schoolwork in order to keep his promise. Despite his hard work in school and domination on the field at Kennedy High School, he was determined a non-qualifer by the University of California, so he enrolled at Contra Costa Junior College. He was devastated. He thought he would never make it to D1 football, be working at Taco Bell and Jack in the Box, but worst of all, has broken the promise he made to his Grandma. But this all changed when he reached out to UCLA defensive line coach, Angus McClure, who was interested in him. McClure realized that his transcript had not taken into account two summer classes McKinley had taken, which made him eligible. He was motivated to make it for his grandma. He had kept his promise.

On April 26, 2017, six years after the death of his grandma, Takkarist McKinley had upheld his promise. He was selected 26th overall by the Atlanta Falcons. McKinley played D1 football, made it out of Richmond, and has made something of himself. In a passionate interview, McKinley thanked his grandma, saying that he would not be where he is today. He honored his grandmother by bringing her picture with him to the stage. Engulfed by his passion, McKinley dropped the f-bomb in an interview, and followed up with the best statement of the night: “Fine me later!”. Cam Newton was his favorite player growing up. He even said that he would let Newton score if he had the chance. Unfortunately, he is not going to be able to uphold this promise. Takkarist McKinley is surely making his grandma very, very proud.