Daraun McKinney a three-way force for River Rouge

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Daraun McKinney

Daraun McKinney is enjoying a record-breaking season, helping River Rouge earn a spot in the Division 4 state semifinals.

River Rouge – 10-2 and ranked No. 16 in The Detroit News Super 20 poll – will face Edwardsburg (11-1) in a semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. at Jackson’s Withington Stadium.

McKinney, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior, has been a threat to reach the end zone in all three phases of the game.

McKinney has already set state records for kick returns for TDs (seven) and punt returns for TDs (five) in a season. He has three interceptions from his cornerback position and also does damage as a speed back on offense, scoring on a 5-yard TD run in a 21-14 regional final win at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook last Saturday.

“Daraun is a playmaker,” said River Rouge coach Corey Parker of McKinney, a transfer from Melvindale. “He plays with a lot of confidence and a chip on his shoulder. In the open field, he’s dangerous because of his ability to stop and start very quickly. He’s a team player who has a great career ahead of him. The sky is the limit.”

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McKinney is among several players, including cornerback Reggie Pearson (Wisconsin) and tight end Lee Payton (Western Michigan) who have Division 1 offers.

McKinney, who has 4.5 speed. already has offers from Indiana and Cincinnati and has drawn interest from multiple other schools, including Western Michigan, which will graduate an All-American kick returner in Darius Phillips (Dearborn Heights Robichaud), who has an FBS career-record 12 TDs on runbacks, including five kickoff returns and a punt return.

McKinney returned the opening kickoff for a 70-yard TD in each of the first two postseason games, a 42-6 predistrict rout of Flat Rock and a 35-10 district title game win over Chelsea.

“My friends have given me great blocking and that’s where it all starts and then I just use my athleticism to do what I do best,” said McKinney of his ability to reach the end zone. “It’s a pretty hard job, but I just hit the hole, run as fast as I can and use my vision.

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“I was timed at a 4.5 flat at camp at the University of Toledo in the spring, but I think I’ve gotten faster. I’m one of the reliable speed guys on the team and they look at me in that area, and I’m happy to be in that position. Really, it gives me the opportunity for me to define myself on how I play the game. I never planned to have the amazing season on special teams that I’ve had, but it just shows the athleticism I have and the vision to get things done.”

McKinney wasn’t about to get many chances against Cranbrook and its all-state kicker Pierson Cooke, who was able to consistently get the ball in the end zone.

“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating because I kind of prepared that I wouldn’t get a chance,” said McKinney of facing Cranbrook and Cooke.

Though McKinney is effective on offense and defense, he says his favorite role is kick returner.

“I’ve had the best time at it,” he said. “It’s just a fun thing to do.

“I start at cornerback and play running back a couple of times a game too, just when they need a speed back to get outside, because we have some stocky guys back there.”

River Rouge lost 1,000-yard back Jalen Jackson to Detroit King, but it has a power back in 5-9, 225-pound Alex Carter, who has rushed for 1,132 yards and 22 TDs.

McKinney called River Rouge’s state playoff run an “amazing opportunity.”

No doubt, River Rouge will have to play a much cleaner game in the semifinals than it did against Cranbrook if it has any hopes of playing at Ford Field in the state championship game.

River Rouge had three turnovers, including a fumble inside the Cranbrook 1 and an interception in the red zone, both in the first half.

Then, in the second half River Rouge had three straight penalties deep in its own territory, moving the ball from the 8 to the 4, then the 2 and 1 before Cranbrook stripped McKinney of the ball and pounced on it for a TD to pull even at 14.

River Rouge pulled the game out when Carter broke loose for a 60-yard run to the 1, then scored with 6:20 left for the deciding points.