Kenny McKinley’s high school coach had a tough time dealing with the news of the NFL player’s death on Monday night.
McKinley, 23, who was a wide receiver with the Denver Broncos, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Colorado detectives told the AP.
“I’m shocked, devastated and in total disbelief because Kenny was one of the most pleasant and happy young men that I’ve ever been around,” former South Cobb assistant coach Derek Cook told the AJC on Monday. “Even when Kenny got in trouble at football practice and had to run, he was still smiling and laughing. I just can’t understand [his death] or believe it.”
At South Cobb, McKinley was one of the greatest players in school history, graduating in 2005. His quarterbacks coach for all four years in high school was Cook, who is now the head coach at Kell High School.
South Cobb’s current coach is Ed Koester, who was hired two years after McKinley’s graduation. However, Koster knew all about McKinley’s legacy at the Austell school and later in college. McKinley went on to have a record-breaking career at the University of South Carolina.
“Obviously, at South Cobb, we are saddened by the news about Kenny,” Koester told the AJC. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Cook and his former star pupil remained close friends over the years. McKinley spoke to Cook’s team at Kell High School last year. “He talked to the kids about what it takes to make it to the NFL, how hard you have to work, and to listen to your high school coaches,” recalled Cook.
Cook and his wife flew to Denver to watch McKinley play for the Broncos last season.
As a senior at South Cobb in 2005, McKinley played QB and threw for 1,470 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 750 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was ranked as the nation’s No. 54 athlete by Rivals. The team’s head coach at the time was Shane Queen, who could not be reached for comment on Monday night.
When asked about his favorite memory of McKinley, Cook said, “When he was a freshman, I wanted Kenny to go to the press box with me so he could see what I saw. This was South Cobb’s first varsity game, and Kenny wasn’t on the varsity yet. Kenny is supposed to be studying the game and writing things down. I look over at him and he’s eating chicken wings from the food table. I’m thinking ‘Golly, I’m trying to get his talented freshman to learn something and he’s up here eating food.’
“As it turned out, the next week he was our starting quarterback on the varsity. In one week, he went from eating chicken wings in press box to leading our football team on the field — and he had a great first game. He was smiling and laughing all the way. He was a special player and a special person.”
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