Last season, Willie McGee picked off eight passes for the Killeen freshman team, and the coaching staff knew they had a young player who could have a big influence on the field defensively at the varsity level as a sophomore.
McGee had not recorded an interception throughout the 2016 season, however, entering the Kangaroos’ regular-season finale against Harker Heights at Leo Buckley Stadium on Nov. 4.
Killeen held a 30-29 lead late in the contest. With the Knights on the move, McGee leapt high into the air and corralled a deep pass over the middle with under a minute to play at the Roos’ 13-yard line to preserve the one-point win and ensure their first playoff berth in four years.
It was a perfectly-timed opportunity to come up with a career first.
As the season went on, McGee’s coaches and teammates reminded him about his interception drought regularly during practices.
“They were just in my head about me not getting one,” McGee quipped. “I needed one, and I made sure I got that one so they’d get off my back.”
Because of his play in the victory over Heights, McGee was voted Freddy’s-KDHpressbox.com Player of the Week.
McGee won the award over Salado senior running back Jake Harvey, Belton senior quarterback Peyton Mansell and Ellison senior quarterback Carl Robinson III.
“It feels good to get the award,” McGee said. “It’s my sophomore year, and hopefully I get more throughout my career.”
Killeen head coach Neil Searcy said it was just a matter of time before McGee made a big play.
“He’s the typical free safety you want,” Searcy said. “He’s tall, he’s rangy and he can cover a lot of ground. He can jump as high as the goalpost, too.
“He’s a playmaker.”
McGee was one of a handful of integral sophomore gridders for the Roos. On the defensive side of the ball, along with outside linebacker Tulamalosi Lefotu and middle linebacker Chris Ingram, McGee stepped up big in a season that saw them win their final four games to finish 5-5 and reach the Class 6A playoffs.
While it took a bit of time for McGee and company to get comfortable with the speed of the game at the varsity level, the 5-foot-10 safety said Killeen’s 56-9 loss to Belton on Sept. 29 was not just the turning point for him and the other sophomores, but the whole team.
“I think I personally got settled in,” McGee said. “That was competition at its finest. I got to see what it feels like to play against one of the top people in the state, Peyton Mansell.
“We were losing in that game, but we started playing as a team much more. We needed to get together to know what we could do as a team, and we started 1-5 and ended up 5-5.”
While it may be a rarity, Searcy said the injection of sophomores highly benefited the varsity team this season, and McGee highlighted that group.
“The whole sophomore class is a special group,” Searcy said. “The seniors had leadership, but when they were young — on the freshman and JV teams — they didn’t win a lot of games. The second half of the season was big for them because they won a bunch of games.
“This sophomore bunch has been winning. They brought a winning kind of attitude to our football team that they had as freshmen and in middle school. That’s something we’re really going to build on going forward.”