Arkansas State's McKissic has no hard feelings about ex-coach Malzahn
by Ryan Black
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Sep 04, 2013 | 1602 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn's offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn cheers on the Tigers during their annual A-Day game. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Auburn's offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn cheers on the Tigers during their annual A-Day game. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
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AUBURN -- When Gus Malzahn left Arkansas State for Auburn in December, J.D. McKissic wasn’t hurt.

He wasn’t disappointed or angry, either. Instead, he understood Malzahn just did what was best for him. McKissic said it was far from a selfish move.

“It’s a business,” the redshirt sophomore receiver said. “You’ve got to be able to move on.”

Malzahn’s exit wasn’t 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 news conference Tuesday, Malzahn said he still keeps in touch with “a few” members of the Red Wolves. McKissic wasn’t one of them. The player couldn’t recall speaking with Malzahn since the coach took over the Tigers’ program. It was the same story with Freeze.

It’s not as if McKissic was different. He said he doesn’t keep up with how the Rebels or Tigers are doing unless he comes across them by accident.

“If (I’m) watching TV, and they’re on, I’ll watch the game,” he said.

A lot of eyes will be trained on McKissic this Saturday – and rightly so, even though he is working in a new offensive system under first-year coach Bryan Harsin.

What he did last season proved he wasn’t only one of the top receivers in the Sun Belt Conference, but among the best in the country. He was named the Sun Belt's Freshman of the Year after hauling in 103 receptions for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns. His receptions also were the most by any freshman receiver in the nation.

He caught two passes for 3 yards in this past week's 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and rushed three times for 22 more yards.

McKissic sat out the 2011 season as a redshirt, and he believes that resulted in last year’s success. 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 couldn’t 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, most would be surprised to learn he wasn’t offered a scholarship by any major program. The Phenix City native isn’t undersized – he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 193 pounds. He was an all-purpose threat at Central High, 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 don’t know,” McKissic said. “It might have been an exposure thing. Maybe I wasn’t getting as much as I should have got in high school. I guess (bigger schools) just didn’t want to take a chance on me.”

Growing up a fan of Troy since his older brother Bryant played there, McKissic was crestfallen the Trojans – as well as other FBS programs in bigger conferences -- never gave him a look. He won’t be an afterthought this weekend, though, because 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 won’t have to worry about McKissic continuing to make explosive plays. Yes, every catch he makes helps the team. But it also satisfies McKissic’s inner drive, one of showing top-level teams what they missed out on.

Those schools will have to settle for watching him from afar.

“I’m 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 didn’t take a chance on me. It’s a loss for them, but I’m glad to be here at Arkansas State.”
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