Never one to hold back, Takkarist McKinley had something to say before he took questions from reporters.
“It’s my last full padded practice of my UCLA career,” McKinley said Wednesday. “Thank you, Jesus.”
A standout career is ending on a melancholy note for the senior defensive end. He has appeared in two bowl games with the Bruins, but his team will finish this season with a losing record regardless of what happens Saturday against California.
McKinley will play his final Pac-12 Conference game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, the place where he once intended to make his debut. McKinley had originally committed to Cal before being deemed a nonqualifier and winding up at UCLA by way of Contra Costa College.
Everything turned out just fine. McKinley is among the nation’s leaders with 10 sacks and is widely projected as a first-round pick in the NFL draft. It’s quite the heartwarming story considering McKinley was mostly raised by extended family in Richmond, Calif., after being abandoned by his parents.
“Kids that don’t have anything and make something for themselves the way he has, I think it’s an inspiration to everybody,” Cal Coach Sonny Dykes said on a conference call with reporters. “Heck, I’m 47 years old and it’s an inspiration for me. I’m just really proud of him and really excited to see what he does in his future. I’ll be rooting for him every single game except this Saturday.”
McKinley will have a sizable cheering section that he estimates could number between 30 to 50 friends and family members. Securing that many tickets was a season-long endeavor that required one simple technique.
“You just gotta beg,” McKinley said. “We all trade off during the season. I’ve kind of been on it since Week 1.”
McKinley said he has long circled this game on UCLA’s schedule because it’s the last chance for so many so close to him to see him play in college. He acknowledged there’s a chance his emotions could overflow.
“I’ve gotta have a controlled insanity,” McKinley said. “I’m going to be pretty pumped.”
There’s still a slim chance McKinley could fulfill his preseason pledge to lead the nation in sacks despite playing sparingly over the season’s first three games because of a groin injury. He trails a handful of players, including Utah’s Hunter Dimick, whose 14 sacks rank No. 1 in the country.
“I gotta have a great game against Cal to get that,” McKinley said of the top spot. “Five, six sacks, you feel me? Anything is possible.”
Next up on McKinley’s football agenda, barring an unlikely but possible bowl game with the Bruins, would be the NFL draft. McKinley won’t be picky about where he ends up. He’s had a lifelong affinity for the Carolina Panthers after being drawn to their colors but isn’t sure how he would fare in practice against players he’s long idolized.
“My uncle always [asks] me, ‘How would you feel about tackling Cam Newton?’ ” McKinley said, referring to the Panthers quarterback. “I tell him, ‘I just couldn’t do it.’ … I would just let him score, to be honest with you.”
McKinley then caught himself with a laugh.
“I’m just messing with you,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Caught in the Webb?
The biggest challenge of UCLA safety Randall Goforth and cornerback Fabian Moreau’s college careers could be coming last.
The seniors will face a Cal offense that spreads the field, passes the ball and passes some more.
Quarterback Davis Webb leads a passing offense that ranks third nationally with 364 yards per game. The graduate transfer has completed 61.2% of his passes for 3,994 yards and 35 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
“He gets rid of the ball so fast,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “He knows where he wants to go, does a great job of reading defenses.”
Webb will face a challenge of his own. UCLA ranks eighth in the country in passing efficiency defense and has allowed only 10 touchdown passes this season.