PASADENA, California — To be a successful cornerback, you’ve got to play it cool. No one in college football appears to realize that more or live that philosophy better than Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry.
From the tastefully flashy jewelry that accessorized the Crimson Tide sweatsuit he wore to Saturday’s Rose Bowl Media Day to his demeanor on the playing field to simply living up to his unique nickname, Ga’Quincy McKinstry clearly gets it.
Of course, not everyone knows his real first name is Ga’Quincy. Some teammates know it. Family members know it, although on those rare occasions during the football season when he gets to spend time with them, they don’t call him that.
“Well, it depends on the person. Every person has a different name for me, I would say,” McKinstry said. “One person might call me Kool-Aid. One person might call me ‘G.’ It depends on different things. I would say a lot of people in my family call me G because the world knows me as Kool-Aid and they know me as G, you know what I’m saying?”
No one really calls him Ga’Quincy any longer, however. Not even his mother.
“My mom calls me G the most,” McKinstry said. “My mom never really calls me my real name. No matter how mad she is, she just never calls me my real name.”
The same goes for his Crimson Tide teammates and Coach Nick Saban.
“I call him Kool-Aid all the time,” Saban said.
“I call him Little G. That’s my brother,” Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner said. “He is for real.”
No matter what they call him, opposing teams don’t call pass plays directed toward McKinstry too often these days. Turner and Saban say you must look beyond the raw statistics to understand the value of a cornerback, indicating that it is especially true this season with McKinstry, whose mere presence on the field seems to discourage other quarterbacks from throwing the ball his way.
So as he prepares for No. 4 Alabama’s showdown vs. No. 1 Michigan in this Monday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the historic Rose Bowl, McKinstry is playing it cool just the way he has all season. He doesn’t worry about not yet having an interception this season for the first time in his three years with the Tide, or that on most of Michigan’s offensive plays he probably will be avoided like a COVID-carrying germ spreader.
He says he will be ready for the ball to come his way on every single snap. Even when he recognizes the reality that it won’t.
“I learned this from Coach Saban,” McKinstry said. “Coach Saban always told me that being a corner that you might have five plays (come your way). You never know when those plays are going to happen at corner. So you’ve always got to be prepared. I feel like me just knowing me, I know I’ve got to be on my ‘A Game’ every play because like Coach told me, you never know when that play is going to happen, and you always want to be prepared for that play.
“You never want to be a guy that hurts you are team. You always want to do your job. So just knowing, being a cornerback, that a play can happen at any moment of a game … It could be the first play of a game and you may not see a play again until the third quarter. Just make sure when it does, you’re on your ‘A Game’ and ready.”
Saban said McKinstry does an excellent job of this, while conceding that it is not easy mentally to do so for great cornerbacks who don’t see the ball come their way often.
“I think cornerback is a position that you’re going to have five or six plays in the game that are going to be critical plays to make or not make because they all could end up being big plays,” Saban said. “I think it’s the nature of the beast that if you’re out there playing for 55, 70 plays in a game that you’ve got to stay focused on every play because you don’t know when those five or six plays are going to approach a corner. You’ve got to be in great position to do it and you’ve got to focus every play so that you’re not in bad position when that one play comes up.
“I think that’s the nature of the beast at this position, and I think when you’re a player like him, you’ve got to especially stay focused because it may not happen as often. But when it does, you’ve got to be able to respond and you’ve got to be in great position.”
Turner said that McKinstry has earned the reputation he know has as one of college football’s top cornerbacks.
“Kool-Aid, he has been doing this since he was a freshman,” Turner said of his teammate who now is a junior. “When you build that rep up for yourself as a shut-down corner playing on that island the whole game, it kind of builds a lot of reputation for you. A lot of teams know not to try him. He’s been establishing himself since he was 18 years old. It’s a blessing for him to be in the shoes that he is in now. I’m proud to call him my brother and see him grow as much as he has.”
McKinstry said he talks with Turner and other teammates and coaches during the game to make sure he is staying alert.
“I talk to a lot during the game.” he said. “I make sure I’m staying in the game, staying alive, using my feet, using my hands (on every play). That’s just the way I approach the game,”
As for the cool nickname, McKinstry’s grandmother gave it to him when he was a baby. She said his smile reminded her of the Kool-Aid Man.
In a nod to his real first name, McKinstry now has a young daughter of his own named Quincy. But he flashed his trademark smile during Media Day on Saturday and reminded everyone what he prefers to be called.
“My name is Kool-Aid since birth,” he said.