AUBURN, Ala. When Gus Malzahn left Arkansas State for Auburn last December, J.D. McKissic wasnt hurt.
He wasnt disappointed or angry, either. Instead, he understood Malzahn was just doing what was best for him. It was far from a selfish move, McKissic said.
Its just the way college football operates in the 21st century.
Its hard to have to learn another offense again and trying to start to learn things about your position, but its a business, the redshirt sophomore receiver said. Youve got to be able to move on.
Malzahns exit wasnt even the first coaching change McKissic had dealt with in his two years in Jonesboro, Ark., up to that point. Mirroring what Malzahn would do just one year later, Hugh Freeze coached the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt Conference title in 2011 before accepting the same position at Ole Miss.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Malzahn said he still keeps in touch with a few of Red Wolves. McKissic isnt one of them. He couldnt recall speaking with Malzahn since took over the Tigers program. It was the same story with Freeze.
Its not as if McKissic was different. He said he doesnt keep up with how the Rebels or Tigers are doing unless he comes across them by accident.
If (Im) watching TV and theyre on, Ill watch the game, he said.
A lot of eyes will be trained on McKissic this Saturday and rightly so. What he did last season proved he wasnt only one of the top receivers in the Sun Belt, but among the best in the country. He was named the Sun Belt Conferences Freshman of the Year after hauling in 103 receptions for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns. His receptions were the most of any freshman receiver in the nation.
Without the benefit of a redshirt, however, McKissic believed last seasons success wouldnt have happened. When he first set foot on campus, he was overwhelmed making the transition from high school to college.
I talked to the coaches, and they had tried to get me to learn the offense, he said, but there were just too many signals and I just couldnt soak it all in. So I took a redshirt.
Working with the scout team and getting mental reps as well as being able to watch the Red Wolves more experienced receivers from the sidelines were the most important factors that aided his stellar 2012 season.
Given his robust receiving numbers, many would be surprised to learn he wasnt offered by any major Division I school. The Phenix City native isnt undersized he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 193 pounds. He was an all-purpose threat at Central High School, catching 25 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns, rushing for 411 yards and returning 22 kicks for another 486 yards.
Why the lack of interest?
I dont know, McKissic said. It might have been an exposure thing. Maybe I wasnt getting as much as I should have got in high school. I guess (bigger schools) just didnt want to take a chance on me.
Growing up a fan of the Troy Trojans since his older brother Bryant played there, McKissic was crestfallen the Trojans as well as other Division I programs in bigger conferences never gave him a look. He wont be an afterthought this weekend, though, since Malzahn is obviously well-aware of his abilities.
J.D.'s a phenomenal player, Malzahn said. He's great with the ball in his hands. He's a receiver who has running back skills. A big-time playmaker.
As long as the Red Wolves keep getting him the ball, they wont have to worry about McKissic continuing to make explosive plays. Yes, every catch he makes helps the team. But it also satisfies McKissics inner drive, one of showing top-level teams what they missed out on.
Those schools will have to settle for watching him from afar.
Im the type of guy that likes to come from the bottom and make it to the top, he said. So that motivated me a lot, just thinking about why these teams didnt take a chance on me. Its a loss for them, but Im glad to be here at Arkansas State.