I got the opportunity to speak with Brandon Kinnie's former college football coach recently. Jeff Sims is the head coach of the Fort Scott Community College Greyhounds, Kinnie's junior college last season before he transferred to Nebraska. Sims is high on Kinnie's long term potential, but was cautioning Husker fans on expecting too much from him in the 2009 season.
Sims acknowledged Kinnie's potential rather bluntly, stating about Kinnie that there is "no one in the country tougher when he's one-on-one with a defender" and also pointed out that at 6'3" and nearly 220 pounds with a 4.3 forty-yard dash that "Kinnie is bigger and faster than Michael Crabtree".
Such talk should have Husker fans salivating for Kinnie to get on the field this season, but Sims was quick to temper those expectations. His take on Kinnie was similar to what should be expected from younger players - Kinnie is a sophomore - that it will take time to adjust playing in front of a home crowd the size of Memorial Stadium, get comfortable with Nebraska's culture, and adjust to life on a new campus. Sims' general feeling was that it should be considered a tremendous accomplishment if Kinnie can start once or twice and contribute to the team this season, but again pointed out his high potential stating "by the time he's done he could be one of the best Nebraska's ever had".
Players attend junior colleges for one of three reasons - to prepare themselves academically, socially, or to prove themselves on the football field. The best junior college coaches recognize the reason that the player is at their school and will have worked on those weaknesses in order to prepare the player to attend a larger school. The work includes establishing the discipline required to not only attend classes and make grade, but the responsibility and dedication that goes along with being a FBS-level athlete.
With regards to proving himself on the field, Kinnie is no different than Zac Lee, a JUCO transfer who spent most of his time in high school focusing on baseball and chose a year at San Francisco City College to show that he was capable of playing quarterback at a FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision - formerly known as Division 1-A) school. Lee finished his single season in the junior college ranks compiling a 10-2 record while leading his team to the California junior college title game. Along the way, Lee ran up more than 3,400 passing yards and completed 64 percent of his passes with 35 touchdowns.
Like Lee, Kinnie was a stand out player in junior college, helping lead the Greyhounds to their best record in 37 years, going 9-2 and winning the Heart of Texas bowl game. He compiled 845 yards on 62 receptions with 10 touchdowns, statistics more incredible when you consider the team's offensive philosophy was running the football out of the I-formation.
There's an expectation with JUCO players that it will take time to adjust playing against bigger, faster and stronger athletes, but Sims pointed out that in the higher level of junior college there are plenty of highly talented athletes as Fort Scott sent 15 players to FBS schools last season.
It normally takes time for young players to learn an offense, but according to Sims, Kinnie has learned a lot of it already, including being mentored somewhat by Lee who gave him advice about not comparing his former junior college offense to Nebraska's and instead to start from scratch.
Working in Kinnie's favor is the fact that the Husker offense will be looking for playmakers amongst its young receiving corps. Beyond Menelik Holt and Niles Paul, the rest of the receiving corps comes into 2009 with less than ten career receptions and a single touchdown. Big things are expected from freshman Antonio Bell as well, whom at least Husker fans have seen in action at the 2009 Red-White Spring Game.
Finding a playmaking receiver may hold a huge key for the 2009 Husker football season. Every team in the Big 12 North has a number of weaknesses for which they are trying to find capable players. The division will most likely come down to a tie-breaker at the end of the season. With such a tight fight on the line - can Kinnie hold the key?