McKillop prepared for Draft

By Jay Huerbin

When the NFL Draft takes place April 25-26, Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop won’t be too far… When the NFL Draft takes place April 25-26, Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop won’t be too far from the college that turned him into an NFL prospect.

‘I’ll be with my family,’ said McKillop, a Pittsburgh native. ‘If something good happens, I want to be here to share it with them.’

McKillop, who earned the 2008 Big East defensive player of the year award in his final year at Pitt, is coming off the best season of his college career.

Along with teammate running back LeSean McCoy, McKillop is projected by many scouting Web sites to make it in the NFL.

But even good projections don’t take away the stress of being an NFL prospect.

‘It can be a scary two days,’ said McKillop of the Draft. ‘But all it takes is one team to really like you and there you are.’

Most projections rank McKillop as a top-10 linebacker in this year’s Draft class — good for a mid-round Draft pick.

It’s the kind of thing he earned on the field while playing with the Panthers. But coming to Pitt wasn’t always about football for McKillop.

‘I came to Pitt to get a degree, and anything else that happened with football was just a plus,’ he said. ‘As a kid, I dreamed about playing in the NFL. But every kid who plays football dreams about that.’

After graduating from Kiski Area High School, the Panthers were the only team to make a football offer to McKillop. With his older brother, Chris, a defensive lineman on the team already, McKillop committed to Pittsburgh.

As a redshirt freshman and backup for two years, he saw limited action until his junior year. But he used that time to learn from his mentor, H.B. Blades.

‘I think anytime you’re able to sit behind somebody like him, it’s great,’ said McKillop about Blades, who is now a linebacker for the Washington Redskins. ‘I took advantage of every possibility I could. I tried to follow what he did not only on the field, but off as well that could make me a better football player.’

The learning paid off. He quickly rose to the top tier of college linebackers.

Still, McKillop said he never thought realistically of playing in the NFL until halfway through his college career.

‘After my junior season, I thought if I could just take it up one more level, then maybe there’s an opportunity for me to play in the NFL,’ he said.

McKillop finished his junior year as the nation’s leading tackler and was named a third-team All-American by the Associate Press.

At that point, he was officially on the NFL Draft radar. And he took it up that extra level.

During his senior year, McKillop increased his NFL Draft stock. Along with his Big-East-leading 137 tackles — 21 more than the second-place player had — he was also named to the All-America Team selected by the Football Writers Association of America.

He was the second Pitt linebacker to win the award in three years. The last Panther named to the 25-player team was his predecessor, Blades.

McKillop said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt provided him with the tools necessary to become a good player. Although it took three years before earning the starting linebacker position, McKillop is grateful for the opportunity to improve his game.

‘I never really envisioned myself being where I’m at right now,’ said McKillop, who still speaks with Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. ‘When I first got here, I didn’t really have a great understanding of the game.’

That changed under the Pitt coaching staff, which saw the linebacker develop firsthand.

‘Scott was the complete package,’ said Wannstedt. ‘He was a guy, that when things were tough early, was really the rock of our football team last year.’

The leadership and field presence that Wannstedt and the Panthers experienced last year is something that McKillop believes makes him different than other linebackers in the NFL Draft.

‘I think my knowledge of the game will definitely be one of my aspects at the next level,’ said McKillop. ‘There are a lot of players that are as athletic as I am, but you need to find little things on the field that can separate you from other players.’

For McKillop, part of that separation includes finding the time to stay in football shape. After the 2008 season finished, he took part in the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine before having his pro day in Pittsburgh.

The past couple of months have been busy for McKillop, who said he wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to continue playing for the hometown team.

‘I’ll be fortunate for any team to give me a shot,’ explained McKillop. ‘I don’t really have a favorite, but playing here and being from here, playing for the Steelers would be nice.’

Whether he will put on the black and gold or not, McKillop is ready for whatever is next.

‘I expect it to be a challenge just like it was coming into college,’ he said. ‘But that’s just the next thing I’m ready to take head-on. I think I can play up there and I’m just looking forward to getting it all started.’