Big days are ahead for Edward Waters College football.
The Jacksonville school is set to move from NAIA to NCAA Division II with an eye on joining the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association for historically black colleges.
And in the 20th year since re-launching its football program in 2001, the Tigers will move from borrowed high school fields into their new $4 million Nathaniel Glover Community Field and Stadium on campus.
It is as good a time and place as any for Mitchell McKinnon to resume his football career.
The former two-sport star for Palatka High School enrolled at EWC in January, joining the football program as a walk-on after passing for almost 1,000 yards in seven games in 2018, his only full-time varsity season for the Panthers.
“They’re going to play him as a walk-on. They encouraged him to come,” said PHS coach Willie Fells. McKinnon could not be reached for comment.
A three-time all-county basketball player, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound McKinnon was Daily News player of the year as a junior in the 2017-18 season, when the Panthers were 28-3 and made their fourth Final Four of the decade. He did not play football that year but was persuaded to come out the following spring, when he made an immediate impression.
“The first time we saw him in practice (the receiver ran) a simple slant route,” Fells said. “The speed with which he got him the ball made us go, ‘Wow.’”
There would be more ‘wow’ moments that fall as McKinnon completed 56 of 100 passes for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns with only two interceptions in seven games. He also ran 58 times for 442 yards (7.6 per carry) – all in an offense that featured 1,600-yard rusher Jay’Lyn Session. The Panthers finished 3-7 and were 2-5 in the games McKinnon started.
McKinnon did not play in one game because of an injury and missed the last two for disciplinary reasons, but Fells said he has done what it takes to get a chance at the next level.
“They (EWC) showed him what they could offer. He had some things he had to get in line, which he has done and now he’s there,” Fells said. “I think they see the athleticism as an upside. He only really played one year of football for us. I wish we’d had a little more time with him. When (college) coaches saw him in 2018, they liked his upside but just couldn’t take the chance on him.”
No members of the 2019 Palatka High team have made college commitments as of yet.