Jerick McKinnon Wants to Be the Man in Minnesota
There were a lot of things Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon wasn’t “supposed” to do.
As a senior at Georgia Southern, he wasn’t supposed to beat Florida in his final collegiate game, the first time the Gators had ever lost to an FCS team. Coming out of a school with little history of success in the pros, he wasn’t supposed to get drafted, but after a dominant combine performance, the Vikings took him in the third round last year. And finally, going to a team with the best running back in the world, Adrian Peterson, McKinnon wasn’t supposed to see much playing time as an NFL rookie.
But after Peterson’s indefinite suspension, McKinnon stepped up, rushing for 538 yards in six starts, including a breakout 135-yard performance in Week 4. After an offseason spent recovering from back surgery – and with AP back in the fold – McKinnon heads to Vikings camp determined to push Peterson for reps, and prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. The odds may be against him, but the man accustomed to exceeding expectations believes it’ll be business as usual in 2015.
When you were at Georgia Southern, what was it like to beat Florida when you were four-touchdown underdogs?
It was one of the best moments of my life. Just being a small school, we had never done that. It’s rare that you see it. It’s pretty much like David and Goliath. Nobody thinks you’re gonna win the game. Just after everything we went through that year, not being able to make the playoffs my senior year because they were making the move to Division I, everything my teammates went through, to finish on that note was one more achievement that we accomplished. But I would say it was the best one.
At Georgia Southern you also played some quarterback. Do you ever try to talk the Vikings’ coaches into letting you throw some passes?
Nah, I never did that [laughs]. I’m still trying to get good as a running back. But you never know. My main focus is trying to become the best all-around running back I can be.
What was the most surprising thing about your rookie season?
I didn’t expect to play as much as I did coming into the season. Thought I’d be more special teams, more of that role, but then everything happened [with Peterson’s suspension] and things went down. But I wouldn’t say I didn’t expect it, because I always prepare myself to be a starter. At the same time, I wasn’t expecting everything to happen like it did.
What was it like in the Vikings’ locker room as the Peterson situation was unfolding?
At first the situation was at a standstill, nobody knew what was gonna happen. I just think it was an opportunity to continue to get better. To take in the stuff that the coaches were telling me, and Adrian was telling me and have a chance to fight for that starting position throughout the year. I felt like I was getting better and better, but then the surgery put me out. That was a heartbreaker.
Do you find it weird that the best running back in the history of Georgia Southern before you was a guy named Adrian Peterson, and now you’re following another running back named Adrian Peterson in the pros?
Yeah that’s crazy. When I first got down to Georgia Southern, all you heard about was that Adrian Peterson. I got to meet him and got to know him while I was down there. Just a good guy, a hardworking dude. He came out and got drafted so I always wanted to be one of the next guys to come out of the school and get drafted. Just keep the trend going, because there’s not a lot of us that got drafted from that school. And then I got drafted and I got to meet the other Adrian Peterson and he’s just down-to-earth, humble, works hard and is probably the greatest running back ever. So I just try to learn from him, take what I can and apply it to my game.
Peterson is one of the best players in the NFL, so how did the team handle losing him for the season?
I mean, it was tough not having a guy like AP in the locker room, but at the same time, after that happened we still had pretty much the whole season left. So it’s not like we could quit or forfeit. Everybody had to get back on track, next man up, find a way to contribute to the team and find the effort to contribute to winning games. At times last year things didn’t go our way, we lost some close games, but you know, we’re a young team and it’s a learning process. I think it’s better for us for this upcoming season. There are a lot of situations from last year that we can look at and learn from.
Were you able to talk to Adrian while he was serving his suspension?
After everything had happened I hit him up, just saying that he was in my prayers and I was hoping everything would work out for him. Didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him after that. When he came back we didn’t really ask about the situation, so nah, not too much.
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