At 6-foot-2 and 350 pounds, he pretty much filled the front seat of the John Deere Gator he sat in on the edge of the Trotwood-Madison High School football field.
Brandon McKinney wore a white porkpie hat with an Indianapolis Colts horseshoe on the front, a blue t-shirt that must have been size XXXXL and a sculpted black beard that covered his ample cheeks.
An air horn lay on what was left of the seat next to him, but before he used it to cut through the din of the 250 young football players and cheerleaders who surrounded him, he offered a bit of quiet reflection on his unlikely ride through the NFL.
Undrafted out of Michigan State in 2006, the Chaminade Julienne graduate who grew up in Trotwood has now played nose tackle for the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and the Colts.
“I’m eight years in now after being undrafted — that’s hard to come by,” McKinney said. “Getting passed over coming out of college put a little chip on my shoulder. I knew I was better than people perceived me to be, but you’ve heard the old saying:
“It’s not always where you start, it’s where you finish, where you end up.”
And where he ended up Saturday was back home in Trotwood to put on his annual BJ Kids Foundation 91 football – and, this year, cheerleading – camp for youngsters ages 6-14. Among the guys helping with the instruction were four other NFL players with local ties.
There was fellow CJ and Michigan State grad Javon Ringer, who’s been a Tennessee Titans running back the past four seasons; Green Bay Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy, a product of Wayne High and MSU; and a pair of Cincinnati Bengals — running back Daniel “Boom” Herron from Ohio State and Roy Roundtree, a rookie out of Michigan who prepped at Trotwood.
Yet, for all this star power, the signature event of McKinney’s foundation doesn’t come until Aug. 11. That’s when the “Back To School Barber/Stylist Cutoff” attracts 600 to 1,000 students to the Dayton Convention Center.
“We get barbers and stylists from all over the city to come in and cut and style the hair of any child who wants to get ready to go back to school. And it’s all free,” said Sharon Howard, a spokeswoman for McKinney’s foundation. “In addition, they get school supplies, there are resources there to give parents help and everybody gets fed.”
McKinney has never been able to attend that event because he’s always been in a preseason training camp with one NFL team or another. This year will be no different, except that he has more riding on his efforts than ever.
He missed the entire regular season last year after he tore his ACL in the Colts third preseason game at Washington. He’s spent a year rehabbing the left knee and though he said he’s not quite 100 percent, he’s been cleared to play.
“Coming back has been a real grind, but in this profession nothing comes easy,” he said.
That makes him appreciate his good fortune all the more and it’s why he’s become one of the most big-hearted pro athletes we have in this area.
In fact, there even has been some behind-the-scenes negotiations for him to launch a recreation center for kids in Montgomery County.
“There’s definitely been some conversations that way, but I’m not quite sure what we’ll do,” he said. “But down the way I’d like to have a center for kids. I love kids and I like giving back. I don’t have to be a guy who takes, takes, takes all the time. I don’t mind giving back and doing for my community. That’s important to me. A lot of my family is in education and it’s important to them.”
He said his dad, Tim McKinney, is an academic counselor at Sinclair Community College and his brother, Tim Jr., is an intervention specialist with Dayton Public Schools. His mother, Diane, died of lung cancer in 2008 and he now has her likeness tattooed on his arm.
“He’s a guy who definitely remembers where he came from,” said Ringer. “I’ve known him a long time and I’ve constantly seen him give back. He’s just an all-around great person who does a lot.”
One thing he does — besides the football and philanthropy — is cook, he said.
“Oh yeah, I can cook very well,” he grinned. “My specialty is macaroni and cheese — from scratch.”
Saturday he fed the kids grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, but before lunch, he blasted that air horn several times and assembled the horde in the middle of the field.
As he was about to introduce the other NFL players — the kids would playfully boo Roundtree’s Michigan credentials, loudly cheer Herron’s Ohio State ties and give McKinney mixed reviews, cheering his Ravens connections, but booing mention of the Colts — he noticed a few young players who were talking, not listening.
“OK, you and you and you stand up,” McKinney said with feigned sternness. “You can’t be quiet so I’m gonna eat YOUR lunch and YOURS…and YOURS, TOO. I’m hungry.”
Nobody doubted him, everybody eventually laughed and the message was delivered.
“Brandon shows kids the right way to go,” said Herron. “He’s great for the community.”
McKinney said he lives in Indianapolis in the offseason, but has a place here, too. Soon to turn 30, he’s not married, but he’s certainly not ruling out the institution. Once again it’s the old “not where you start, but where you end up” theme.
So if some gals are looking?
“Oh yeah, I’m still open,” he laughed. “I can cook. I’m good with kids. I got no kids. I’m single. I’ve got a job. A great personality. I’m a great guy. A loving guy. An outgoing guy.
“I’m the total package.”