Falcons pick Comet alumnus in NFL Draft

Local athlete chosen in first round

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Contra Costa College has long been a hotbed of talented students who rarely receive the attention or recognition their accomplishments demand they deserve.

That all changed  Thursday night when CCC alumnus and Richmond resident Takkarist McKinley was drafted in the first round of the 2017 National Football League Draft.

After being selected with the 26th pick by the Atlanta Falcons, the 6 foot 3 inch, 250 pound, defensive lineman removed any doubt about his East Bay lineage or the passion that drove McKinley toward achieving his goals. 

In 2011, as a student at Kennedy High School in Richmond, McKinley made a deathbed promise to his grandmother, who raised him and served as his biggest supporter.

He vowed to stay in school and play football at the Division I level.

She died shortly after the conversation.

Shortly after being drafted, a tearful McKinley gave a impassioned declaration to his late grandmother on nationwide TV that was emblematic of the passion and spirit he showed during his time at CCC.

“I made a promise to her and I stuck to it. I told her before she died that I would live my dream, get out of Richmond, go D-1 and play in the NFL,” McKinley said to NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders. “I made that promise to her and 30 seconds later she passed away — this is what I do it for.”

McKinley’s arrival at CCC in 2013 was purely circumstantial.

After notching 60 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior at Kennedy, McKinley committed to the University of California Berkeley before problems with his transcripts forced the freshman away from Berkeley and into a search for a solution to pursue his dream.

“Takk (McKinley) was a qualifier out of Kennedy. But before getting to play at Cal they said he was a non-qualifier,” former Comet football coach and current San Jose State University running backs coach Alonzo Carter said.

“I grew up with his uncle in Oakland and he told me that Takk needed help with his eligibility problems. I looked at his transcripts and they looked OK, but we decided to enroll him at CCC to keep him active while we got everything sorted out.”

Carter said McKinley left CCC, after just one year, as a two-time Dean’s List student with a GPA higher than when he was accepted into Cal out of high school.

Also, when he arrived at CCC the only offers he had were from Cal and Washington State University. However, when McKinley left the college, the freshman touted over 40 offers from schools in all the major athletic conferences in the NCAA.

Sociology and social sciences department Chairperson Vern Cromartie taught McKinley during his time at CCC and knows the obstacles he had to overcome in life.

“When I think of Takk I think of resilience. For him to overcome hardships, battle back and make it is huge,” Dr. Cromartie said. “It shows anyone can be successful if they have that one adult step up in their life, and that’s who his grandmother was for him.”

Carter accompanied McKinley to Philadelphia’s Art Museum, the site of the 2017 NFL Draft, and he said he was excited to revel in the success of his former player.

“This is a blessing. It’s euphoric being here at the draft in Philadelphia,” Carter said. “Everything has come full circle because of trusting the process. Takk went from part-time player as a sophomore at UCLA to a starter in his junior year. He ended being named to the All PAC-12 team in his senior year.

“It’s big. It’s major, and I’m proud to be a part of his success,” he said. “He dreamed about playing professional football. He’s living his dream and he’s not done.

“There is so much upside for him. The passion you see on TV is not going to stop. The sky’s the limit for him.”

As a junior in 2015, McKinley started 12 of 13 games for the Bruins, recording 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The following season, he nearly tripled his sack total ending his senior season with a total of 10. On its list of draft prospects, in which the attributes and weakness of projected NFL picks are analyzed, sportsillustrated.com lists McKinley’s second and third effort toward securing a tackle as an intangible attribute of the 21-year-old, and one of the keys to his professional success.

For McKinley, drive and determination have been the keys to his consistent success and are signature characteristics that are used to describe the lineman by those who shared time with him at CCC.

“His success is not complicated,” CCC Athletic Director John Wade said. “McKinley had remarkable drive. He wanted to get out and continue to move forward. That kind of drive can propel a person to great things.

“He is a great kid,” Wade said. “People focus on how boisterous he is, but when McKinley was here he was a good student and never had any problems with anyone.”

Current Comet sophomore linebacker Amari Mount played his freshman year with McKinley, and has returned to CCC after rehabbing from injury and fulfilling family obligations.

After playing in the 2013 season with the defensive end, Mount saw firsthand what it takes to achieve at a high level.

“He was a man on a mission. You couldn’t stop him,” Mount said. “Anyone that got in his way he would tear them up. It makes me want to grind harder. It motivates me.

“I shed a tear when I saw him walk across the draft stage because I played and practiced with him,” he said. “It made me realize what is actually possible.”

McKinley’s public success, and the unapologetic way he embraces his roots, has made an immediate impact with athletes attempting to retrace his footsteps.

“It is huge that he has achieved this level of success as a one (year) and done player. He is a real Richmond story of perseverance,” Carter said.

“A local kid from Kennedy High School to CCC then to UCLA and finally drafted (in the first round) into the NFL by the Atlanta Falcons — it’s a blessing. He’s living his dream.”