Football Preview 2016: McMackin hopes to ride confidence into senior season

Warren County's Brendan McMackin will play tight end and defensive end for the Wildcats this year. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – If Brendan McMackin had to place his confidence level heading into his junior football season at Warren County High School last fall on a scale of one to 10, he would call it a five.

He had played sparingly as a sophomore in 2014, starting only three games at tight end after the spot opened up due to injury, McMackin said recently, and thought he’d see the type of better talent that would shut him down offensively while stymieing him in his spot as one of the Wildcats’ defensive ends.

It didn’t take long for McMackin’s self-confidence to receive a jolt.

In Warren County’s first game of 2015 at home against Handley, the Wildcats were clinging to a 3-point lead late in the fourth quarter with the Judges driving when McMackin swatted a pitch from Handley quarterback Matt Elliott and fell on the loose ball for a key turnover. McMackin then capped the ensuing possession by hauling in a 10-yard touchdown pass to seal the 27-17 win with two minutes remaining.

“I guess I found myself,” McMackin recalled of that opener, “found where I should be on the field and found out what I could do, and (my confidence) boosted like immediately after the first game.”

The Wildcats would go on to win just one more game last fall to finish 2-8 while missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, but McMackin continued making plays. Notably, in a 14-13 win over William Monroe on homecoming night, the tight end caught both touchdown passes, including the game-winner with less than two minutes to play.

McMackin, a second team all-Conference 28 selection, ended his junior season with 17 catches for 273 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats’ second-leading receiver, and led the team with four sacks at defensive end. Still, he said he didn’t feel like he lived up to his full potential on the field in 2015, and he added that he opened camp this season more athletic and stronger than a year ago.

And, he hopes, he’s a better leader, a trait he wants to use to remedy what McMackin called a lack of “want” that plagued the 2015 Wildcats.

“I think this year it’ll be different because I want it more than I have before and I want my teammates to want it more than that,” he said, “so all the leaders are really pushing them to want to do better this year and not only win two games in a season.”

McMackin’s veteran presence could be key to Warren County’s rebound in 2016, particularly for an offense that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback after the graduation of two-year starter Robert Rutherford (1,565 yards passing, 360 yards rushing, 20 total touchdowns).

“We definitely have some new faces, fortunately for us he’s not one of them,” Wildcats head coach Steven Crist said of McMackin. “We expect a large contribution from Brendan this year. He’s been with the program for a number of years now and has gotten better each year, and we expect the same this year – an improvement from last year and a big impact.”

“Big” certainly describes McMackin’s role at tight end – at 6-foot-5, the senior figures to be a nice target for junior quarterback R.J. Keeney, and one that should serve to complement speedy receiver and fellow senior Cam Ford (39 catches, 551 yards, 4 TDs in 2015).

“It seems like he gets taller every day,” Crist said. “He can present some matchup problems.

“He catches the ball well, which is great when you’re 6-5 and you have the ability to catch the ball. He’s got a huge catch radius because he’s got the long arms to go with the height. And … (being) 6-5 he’s got pretty good quickness too. Put all that together and you’ve got a pretty good offensive player.”

McMackin said he hopes the same can be said for his defensive presence, as well. Despite being undersized at 185 pounds, the senior said he frequented the weight room more often in the offseason, while adding that he’s in “great shape” after playing basketball all summer.

“I think my strength has played a good part (at defensive end) and I’ve worked on a lot of moves, like hand fighting and finesse moves on the defensive side of the ball because with my size I feel like I can get thrown around pretty easily by some O-linemen,” McMackin said. “But I’ve been working on my moves to get around them this year.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com