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Golden Nuggets: Takkarist McKinley and the Nuance of Cal's Academic Evaluation

The ongoing recruiting story of defensive end Takkarist McKinley demonstrates how Dykes and the staff look beyond test scores and GPA to identify who will succeed academically at Cal.

Despite Takkarist McKinley's struggles to qualify academically for Cal, Dykes and the staff have reason to believe he can be a great student if put in the right environment. McKinley has never had much stability at home, and while his schoolwork suffered, his work ethic never diminished.

Early in high school, McKinley said he missed several days of school and practices while tending to his grandmother. The family believes this held him back academically.

McKinley went through phases of anger with his surroundings, sometimes confronting other middle schoolers for commenting on his missing parents. He said he wondered whether he'd end up in jail or dead while living in Richmond, which is high in crime.

"There's not too much that fazes me anymore," McKinley said. "It's made me stronger."
Dykes doesn't know McKinley's entire background, but [Rope Coach Kevin] Parker has briefed him on McKinley's challenges. Cal incorporates McKinley's story into its academic evaluation and recognizes his study environment was not ideal. Through recruiting research, Cal discovered McKinley was a hard worker and felt he might respond well to prep courses.

If a player takes a test six times and still doesn't qualify, Dykes knows it's time to move on and he can revisit the recruitment after a junior college stint. But McKinley still has chances. "You look at all the factors and you say, 'Hey, let's take a chance on this kid,'" Dykes said.

In addition to trying to improve Cal's APR by recruiting the right students, Dykes hopes to see Cal's APR get a boost from returning players who were just short of meeting graduation requirements.

No FBS teams faced penalties from the June rankings. But schools are on notice for 2012-13, when the threshold for postseason participation rises from 900 to 930.

According to Cal officials, former players who have spent time on NFL rosters -- receiver Jeremy Ross (Packers), defensive back Sean Cattouse (Chargers), linebacker D.J. Holt (Redskins) -- are back in school this semester with plans to graduate. This should pump life into Cal's future APR.

"I can say with almost certainty we won't have any issues," said Dykes about potential punishments for the program.

Cal football has augmented its staff of learning specialists from two people to four, Dykes said. Current players have signed non-binding pacts to complete necessary credits to graduate. Academics and APR were primary topics during his introduction to the team, and his recruiting takes a similar tone. "You're always better off with a little less of a player who is a little bit better of a program guy than you are with a better player who's less of a program guy," Dykes said.

With the change in APR threshold for bowl participation, Cal has no margin of error. Fortunately, it sounds like this will not be a problem for long.