Orange Bowl

McKinney, Prescott become leaders for Mississippi State gaining berth in Orange Bowl

Group effort: Teammates surround Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney after being interviewed at his booth during Orange Bowl media day on Monday.
Group effort: Teammates surround Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney after being interviewed at his booth during Orange Bowl media day on Monday. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

When fourth-year juniors Bernardrick McKinney and Dak Prescott arrived on the Mississippi State campus as part of the same transformative 2011 recruiting class, something interesting happened in the weight room.

“Dak competed like a linebacker,” McKinney said.

Indeed, Prescott, a quarterback, could out-lift McKinney, an inside linebacker.

That has since changed.

McKinney, a 6-4, 215-pounder coming out of Rosa Fort High School in Tunica, Mississippi, has grown into a sculpted 6-5, 249-pound specimen. He led the Bulldogs this year in tackles (61) and fumble recoveries (three) and made second-team All-Southeastern Conference.

ESPN’s draft analyst, Todd McShay, ranks McKinney as a late first-round prospect, No.28 overall.

On Monday, McKinney revealed that the NFL Draft Advisory Board has rated him as “no later than a second-round pick.”

That means that Wednesday night’s Orange Bowl game between No.8 Mississippi State (10-2) and No.10 Georgia Tech (10-3) at Sun Life Stadium figures to be the final college game of McKinney’s career.

Meanwhile, Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pounder, is still powerful — he has put on 10 pounds of muscle since his days at Haughton High in Haughton, Louisiana.

Prescott is coming off a first-team all-SEC season in which he completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns while throwing just 10 interceptions.

He also ran for 1,063 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 per attempt.

Scouts, though, are apparently not convinced Prescott is a prototypical NFL quarterback. Prescott said Monday that the NFL Draft Advisory Board did not have him in its top-two-round projection.

Given that information, it becomes more likely that Prescott would return next season for his senior season.

“After the [Orange Bowl] game,” Prescott said, “I’m going to go back, look at the year I had, talk to my family, and then I’ll decide.”

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has talked to both players, and he said he “has a good feel” for what’s going to happen.

“Let’s worry about winning this game first,” Mullen said of the current priority. “And then we’ll make a decision after the game ends.”

Ironically, neither McKinney nor Prescott were ranked highly coming out of high school — both were three-star recruits, according to rivals.com.

But that 2011 class turned into the current juniors and seniors who propelled the Bulldogs to their first-ever No.1 ranking — they got there after beating three consecutive Top10 teams before falling back to No.8.

That 2011 class featured 22 players, and only one player, defensive tackle P.J. Jones, was ranked higher than a three-star recruit by rivals.com.

But that didn’t bother Mullen.

“[cKinney and Prescott]show what our program is all about — underrated players,” Mullen said. “We thought they were excellent football players. We had them rated much higher within our own evaluation than the national media.”

Mullen said he doesn’t mind signing kids who are not rated highly by the media. And he sees some kids rated as five stars that he doesn’t think can play.

“If we think a kid is a great player and nobody is giving them any stars, I love it because most other schools might not even bother recruiting him,” Mullen said.

“On McKinney, I think we beat out Holmes Junior College to get him. That was his only other offer.”

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