Former Walk-On a Big Hit for Big Green

  • Dartmouth College nickel back Kyran McKinney-Cruden dances on the line of scrimmage during the Big Green's season opener at Stetson. The Connecticut native has gone from walk-on to team captain and starter. Courtesy Dartmouth Sports Information.

  • Dartmouth College safety Kyran McKinney-Crudden at a Sept. 26, 2017, practice on the Blackman Fields. McKinney-Crudden is the grandson of legendary Connecticut high school football coach Brian Crudden. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College football players Kyran McKinney-Crudden, right, and Darius George on the sidelines for the Big Green's season finale against Princeton last year. McKinney-Kruden missed all but the opener with chest and shoulder injuries. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College safety Kyran McKinney-Crudden tackles Central Connecticut runner Alex Jamele during the Big Green's 2015 victory. A Connecticut native, McKinney-Crudden mostly saw action on special teams that season, but has risen to a starter and tri-captain during the current campaign. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hanover — Beware the chip Kyran McKinney-Crudden carries on his shoulder. Its figurative weight seems to add impact to the senior safety’s tackles.

An example occurred last weekend, when McKinney-Crudden uncorked one of the most violent hits seen at Memorial Field in years.

Holy Cross’ Tenio Ayeni ran a crossing route behind the line of scrimmage, trailed left to right and step-for-step by cornerback Danny McManus. The throw was on target and touched Ayeni’s hands when, from his blind side, arrived a freight train wearing No. 3.

No flag was thrown after the 6-foot, 200-pound McKinney-Crudden drove a shoulder into Ayeni’s chest and ribs, the vectors of defender and receiver intersecting at a perpendicular angle. The ball and McKinney-Crudden’s helmet both went flying, the latter rolling nearly five yards away.

After medical consultation, Ayeni and McManus, who had been behind the receiver but still knocked flat, walked off the field. McKinney-Crudden, who had jumped to his feet roaring with adrenaline, was back for the next play, thanks to Dartmouth taking a timeout.

“When he’s in the right spot at the right time, he has the comfort and confidence to unleash on somebody,” said Dartmouth defensive backs coach Sammy McCorkle, who praised his player for not targeting Ayeni’s head. “You make a play like that once, it might be luck. But he’s done it multiple times.”

McKinney-Crudden’s road to starter and tri-captain was far from smooth. Somewhat undersized and a bit in the recruiting backwoods in the suburbs of Hartford, Conn., he encountered another obstacle when he played through a fractured leg as a senior at Glastonbury High, displaying courage but diminishing his performance.

Yale, the school he’d wanted to attend growing up, showed little interest, but his strong academics drew interest from Duke and Dartmouth, although neither of their football programs were willing to commit an admissions slot to him.

When it became apparent McKinney-Crudden could get into school on his grades alone, it was Dartmouth, not Duke, that offered a spot on its football roster. Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens noticed that the youngster brought intensity and maturity into any room with him. He now touts the player’s wisdom and ability to listen carefully, while he and McCorkle both appreciated McKinney-Crudden’s ability to be passionate, but not reckless.

“I watched tape on him after he decided he was coming and thought, ‘Wow, we got a steal,’ ” McCorkle said. “Once he got here, you could tell right away that he had football savviness and that he wasn’t just happy to be here. He was going to be a factor.”

He had help. McKinney-Crudden’s mother, Jessica, is an elementary school teacher with a master’s degree who enrolled her son in a school system where he studied, at various times, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. Kyran is enrolled in Dartmouth’s five-year, undergraduate engineering program and, after missing virtually all of last season because of injury, may petition the Ivy League for a fifth year of athletic eligibility in the spring.

McKinney-Crudden’s maternal grandfather, Brian Crudden, is a 2014 Connecticut High School Coaches Association hall of fame inductee who guided Windham High teams to a slew of championships in wrestling, track and football. His youngest child, Bran, is only eight years older than Kyran and wrestled at Brown, a pursuit that put the Ivy League on the younger boy’s radar.

McKinney-Crudden’s father, Anthony McKinney, is a former UConn tight end who had several NFL tryouts and played a season in Europe. Kyran was born when Anthony was only 21 and sometimes crawled around the Huskies’ locker room, playing with his father’s teammates. Anthony and Jessica never married, but their boy split time between them as a child.

“I understood very early that I didn’t have the picture-perfect life, but I give all the credit in the world to my parents,” McKinney-Crudden said. “They were still growing up while trying to raise a kid. Now I’m that age, I look at it from a different perspective.”

Said Anthony McKinney: “It was an instant change. I went from running down to Daytona (Fla.) for spring break to buying diapers.”

McKinney-Crudden said his mother would sometimes teach during the day, waitress or bartend at night and study for her graduate degree on the side, all to keep them in the Glastonbury school district she had chosen. His father, who works in wholesale automotive finance, was the one teaching and pushing the boy on the football field.

“He coached me all throughout youth football, and in high school he coached me more than any of my high school coaches,” McKinney-Crudden said. “Most kids aren’t used to hard coaching when they get to college, but I actually thought it was a step back.

“I learned to be hyper-critical of myself. A lot of times, you can get away with a small mistake if the play doesn’t come your way. But if you don’t read your keys right or you step in the wrong direction, next time you won’t be able to make the play.”

McKinney-Crudden is also driven by his walk-on legacy, by the thought that he was overlooked. If not for a casual mention to Teevens by a Dartmouth graduate who had interviewed the youngster during the admissions process, he might not be on the team at all.

“A lot of guys in my class, they got to know each other during recruiting visits, and I didn’t have that chance,” McKinney-Crudden said. “I didn’t think I should have been a walk-on, and I was frustrated.”

Fortunately, the path had already been blazed in recent years. Defensive back Chad Hollis and linebackers Luke Hussey and Garrett Wymore all were walk-ons who became starters, the latter advancing to the latter stages of the Rhodes Scholar award process and graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Current junior linebacker David Emanuals is another walk-on starting to see playing time.

“It’s a testament to our team culture,” McKinney-Crudden said. “Once you get here, it doesn’t matter. Once you put on that green jersey and the white helmet with the four stripes, it doesn’t matter what your scenario is. Can you play?”

Notes: The game will be nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network. … Running back Rashaad Cooper, who exited preseason in line to share a starting spot with Ryder Stone, is doubtful for tonight’s contest. … Penn and Dartmouth are tied with 18 won or shared Ivy League titles, tops in the Ancient Eight. … The Quakers won last year’s game, 37-24, and had a significant edge in line play. … Dartmouth took two buses to the Philadelphia area early Thursday morning, and another departed later in the day for players who had later classes they could not miss.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.