Note to whichever college coach lands Cory McKie: If you ever need to find him on short notice, try the film room first.
Bluffton’s ball-hawking defensive back already has an appreciation for the finer points of film study, turning long hours into big plays as he anchored a secondary that helped take the Bobcats within two steps of a state title game.
McKie’s seven interceptions ranked among the season’s best totals in the South Carolina, several coming in clutch moments. That quality earned him the nod as The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette Defensive Player of the Year for 2016.
“Football is really a mental sport, in my opinion,” said McKie, who graduated in December to join his relocated family in Columbia. “If you know your opponent and know how to stop them, there’s nothing they can do to beat you.”
Not only did McKie’s seven interceptions come within one of the school record, he knew when to make them count — right from the season’s start.
A second-half grab against Screven County preserved a win after the Bobcats stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the final 17 minutes. Two came in the playoffs, including one in the end zone that stopped a Lake City drive as Bluffton won a shootout.
Perhaps the most acrobatic was a over-the-shoulder grab of a ball first tipped by Tristan James against Beaufort, helping turn the momentum after the Eagles grabbed an early 14-point lead.
“I felt like if the ball was in the air, as a safety, it was my job to go get it,” McKie said.
He might have had a share of the school record, too, but dropped one in the regular-season finale against Wade Hampton. “One away,” he lamented.
Anthony Smith remains Bluffton’s sole recordholder, picking off eight in 2012.
Asked about McKie’s nose for the football, Bobcats coach Ken Cribb replied: “Like a bloodhound.”
McKie also collected 86 tackles on the season, finishing just behind linebacker Richard Jenkins for the team lead.
“He’s a great athlete, and his football IQ is very high,” Cribb said. “He understands.”
That understanding reached a new level in the past year or so as McKie began to improve his film study. He credits defensive coordinator John Haupt and secondary coach Eddie Johnson with helping him know what to look for.
“At first, I was just kind of watching the film, but didn’t really know what to do with it,” he said. “I was just looking at it — ‘Oh, I made a great play, tag a highlight.’ ”
As he began to learn tendencies, he’s found the highlights come a lot more frequently. This fall, he estimates he spent “five or six” hours a day breaking down tape.
“My teachers would yell at me for watching film in class,” he admitted.
Now graduated, McKie can focus these next few weeks on where to play next. He’ll take visits to Wingate and Shorter, a pair of Division II schools, but holds out hope a Division I offer might surface.
“My 40 time is the only thing holding me back,” he said, “but I’ve gotten it down.”
One thing coaches can be assured — McKie isn’t about to miss a film session.
IP/BG Defensive Players of the Year
2015: DB Jestin Morrow, Hilton Head Island
2014: DL Nyles Pinckney, Whale Branch
2013: DL Poona Ford, Hilton Head Island
2012: LB Rogan Ferguson, Bluffton
2011: LB Michael Grant, Bluffton
2010: LB Lewis Black, Bluffton
2009: LB Justin Parker, Beaufort
2008: DB Jimmy Legree, Beaufort
2007: DE Devin Taylor, Beaufort
2006: LB Lacy Jefferson, Beaufort
2005: LB Jeremiah Spires, Hilton Head Prep
2004: DB Sam Pope, Beaufort
2003: DB Mark Hodsdon, Hilton Head Island
2002: LB Evans “Boo” Capers, Hilton Head Island
2001: LB Antonio Williams, Battery Creek
2000: DL Jamal Magwood, Battery Creek
1999: LB Moses Mouzone, Beaufort
1998: LB Marion Smalls, Battery Creek
1997: LB Willie Webb, Battery Creek
1996: LB Scott Lee, Hilton Head Island
1995: LB Andre Ford, Jasper County