Cornerback DJ McKinney making mark in first spring with CU Buffs

Colorado cornerback DJ McKinney during practice on April 2, 2024, in Boulder, Colo. (CU Athletics)

Throughout the 2023 season, DJ McKinney wasn’t associated with the Colorado football program, but he also couldn’t avoid hearing about it.

“On social media, you open up your phone, that’s really the first thing you see about football: Colorado, Colorado,” said McKinney, who spent the past two seasons at Oklahoma State.

Now, McKinney is looking to do his part to help the Buffaloes win, after transferring this winter.

“Looking back at it, I really never thought I would see myself being a part of something like this,” he said. “I’m glad I’m here now.

“There was always talk about Coach Prime, the players at Colorado and everything.”

As a cornerback, McKinney jumped at the chance to learn from Coach Prime, CU’s head coach Deion Sanders, who is a Hall of Fame corner and considered by many as the best to play the position.

“I’m really, like, a big experience and knowledge guy, so having him as a coach is a great experience,” McKinney said. “All the knowledge he’s pouring into me, I’m just trying to take it and then apply it to the field.”

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound McKinney has an exceptional skill set of his own and gained valuable experience at Oklahoma State. He redshirted in 2022, playing four games that season. This past year, as a redshirt freshman, he wasn’t a starter, but played in all 14 games for the Cowboys, and was on the field for 596 defensive snaps.

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McKinney led all OSU cornerbacks with 38 tackles in 2023, while also posting five pass breakups. His pass coverage grade (70.2) at Pro Football Focus was second among all OSU defensive backs.

“I would just say my coaches at Oklahoma State, they were just preparing me to make sure I was doing the right thing,” he said. “Having me watching the right film. They actually taught me how to watch film the proper way. So I’ve just been applying that to my game here.”

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McKinney is also grateful for the on-field experience he got in Stillwater.

“It taught me how to adapt to certain things, because we played a different type of style than we do here,” he said. “I took that and I’m just adding here. We played more off (coverage) back at Oklahoma State, so now I’m working on my press man. Really just making me a versatile corner.”

Through the first half of spring practices, McKinney has been one of the more impressive additions to the team, as he’s playing in a starting role while learning not only from Sanders, but from cornerbacks coach Kevin Mathis, who played 10 years in the NFL.

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“He’s been really surprising, man,” Mathis said. “The way he reacts, the way he understands and wants to be coached, because he understands he’s got a ways to go, but he’s able to come in and every day give us everything he’s got.

“We knew we were getting a player but we didn’t know we was getting a leader, also, off the field. And he’s doing a good job of communicating on the field.”

McKinney said he’s looked at fellow cornerback Travis Hunter and senior safety Shilo Sanders as leaders, but has tried to do his part, as well.

“Like as soon as I got here, I noticed who were the leaders, so I just wanted to see how they lead the team, and play my role and also be a leader,” he said.

Although it’s only been a few months, McKinney said it’s been a great experience at CU, especially learning from Coach Prime.

“I love everything about it,” he said. “I love mountains. I love the coaches. I love my teammates. Just ready to dive into the culture here.

“Why not come to Colorado if I’m a DB or a corner and go get coached by Coach Prime?”

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