Athlete of the Week: Team success follows McKinney

socfoot-23countSocastee High three-sport athlete Sam McKinney is on a nice run over the last sports calendar year. His baseball and wrestling teams were Lower State finalists and his football team is coming off back-to-back trips to the Lower State semifinals.

But for McKinney, who was named the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week for his efforts on the football field, it’s more about the team than any individual accolades, and his near-misses with trips to the state championship only fuel his fire to take the next step.

“We’ve had some success but hopefully we can make it to state next time,” said the junior defensive back, whose Braves were eliminated from the Class 3A playoffs in a 40-25 loss to Marlboro County last Friday. “It just makes us want it that much more.”

McKinney anchored a solid Socastee secondary that helped the Braves get off to another school-record 12-0 start, but they met their match in the speedy Bulldogs. Marlboro County quarterback London Johnson torched the Braves for five TD passes.

“They have a bunch of athletes and they’re good, big and quick,” McKinney said. “We ran zone coverage against them but we just weren’t fast enough to keep up with them. They picked at us, created space, and made the plays that we didn’t make.”

McKinney suffered a mild concussion early in the game on a head-on collision with a Marlboro County rusher but remained in the game and came up with an interception that gave the Braves hope. But it wasn’t enough for a team that underwent an offseason coaching change and still went 12-1.

“(New coach Doug) Illing showed intensity and passion from the start that made this team come alive, drive and strive to be state champions,” McKinney said. “I don’t think the talent on our team was better, but the way we all connected allowed us to accomplish all the goals we did.”

Socastee claimed its second straight region title, but the Braves are stepping up to Class 4A next season. Playing against even bigger schools with more talent is a move that could very well effect McKinney’s recent hot streak, but it isn’t going to stop him from trying to keep it going.

“A lot of people are saying we don’t have the talent level it takes to compete in 4A, but I think we’re still a force to reckon with,” he said of Socastee’s sports programs. “We are going to work and play just as hard as we did this year and see what happens.”

So far it’s only good things for McKinney, who is awaiting medical clearance to begin training with the wrestling squad. Although those programs may be more individually oriented than football, McKinney is a team player regardless of the season.

“I don’t really have a favorite (sport), but I love the team aspect of football,” he said. “Wrestling and baseball are a little more individual but you’ve got to have that team behind you if you want to win, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Photo by Nancy Thompson

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