NEW ORLEANS — Around this time last year, then elite prospect Xavier McKinney pulled a stunner in the recruiting world.
Almost everyone expected McKinney — a unanimous four-star recruit and top-10 safety nationally by all the major services — to declare his commitment to Clemson.
Instead, he shocked many by pledging to Alabama at the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 1.
“It was a close decision for me,” McKinney told The Clemson Insider, reflecting on his decision Saturday during Alabama’s Media Day session for the Sugar Bowl. “But at the end of the day, I figured out where I wanted to go, and that was here. I love the decision that I made.”
McKinney’s recruitment, he said, came down to the wire. He didn’t finalize his decision to choose Alabama until the night before the Under Armour All-America Game.
So what happened? How did Alabama manage to land his commitment when everyone thought he would be a Tiger?
“Just the atmosphere, coaching staff, depth in the roster,” McKinney said. “It’s where I felt I could succeed the most as a player and as a person.”
McKinney originally committed to Alabama in September 2015, as well. He then reopened his recruitment in July 2016 before re-upping with the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Day 2017.
The native of Roswell, Ga., held more than a dozen scholarship offers during the recruiting process. Along with Clemson, he considered schools such as Ohio State, Auburn, Georgia and Florida.
McKinney was high on Clemson and enjoyed being recruited by the Tigers. But at the end of the day, he felt Alabama was the best fit.
“It was cool,” McKinney said of Clemson’s recruitment of him. “It was just like any other school, how they recruited me. But of course (Alabama), I felt like I was recruited heavier than any other school.”
In his first year as part of the Tide, McKinney has worked on special teams and seen some action in the secondary. He has recorded eight tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, in 11 games.
McKinney was nearly a Tiger. However, now, he is getting set to face the Tigers in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
“It’s exciting to play against Clemson,” McKinney said. “They recruited me, so it’s an exciting feeling. You don’t really get this a lot of times. But it’s definitely something when you get to play in these big games like this.”