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Alabama in the Pros

Giants’ safety Xavier McKinney says Nick Saban made him a great player

Xavier McKinney (#29) records an interception for Giants versus Raiders on Sunday
Brad Penner - USA Today Sports

Xavier McKinney helped the New York Giants to the NFL playoffs in his third season.

He got the Giants to a playoff victory as a team captain.

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McKinney, a native Georgian, finished the 2022 season with 45 total tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, five passes defended, and a forced fumble. He got selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Giants. McKinney is rising as a safety after three seasons in the pros. He came to the University of Alabama as a four-star in the star-studded 2017 class.

McKinney learned under Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, earning his starting opportunity in 2018. The 6-foot, 201-pounder totaled 74 tackles as a sophomore and a team-high 95 tackles in 2019. He showed versatility in coverage, creating negative plays, and pressuring quarterbacks. McKinney recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, 15 pass breakups, seven quarterback hurries, six forced fumbles, and five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) in two seasons as a starter.

He helped Alabama to a College Football Playoff National Championship in 2017 and a Southeastern Conference title in 2018.

Some players cannot handle a demanding head coach, but McKinney said Nick Saban made him a great player in a segment from The Pivot podcast with Ryan Clark, Channing Crowder, and Fred Taylor.

NY Giants S Xavier McKinney Talks Eagles, Daboll, Super Bowl & Career Threatening Injury | The Pivot

*Xavier McKinney talks about how Coach Nick Saban made him better at the 7:10 mark

“He always wanted to be perfect, and you knew he was about his business,” McKinney said about Saban.

“As I got older, I started to realize that. I think it was after my freshman year, I understood what he wanted to do. I understood how he worked and how he wanted to perfect his craft. I have always been a hardworking dude. I’ve always wanted to strive for perfection. I saw that with Coach Saban, and I wanted to get to the level he was at.”

RELATED: Nick Saban addresses desire to keep coaching at 71 with HS coach

McKinney got adjusted to getting cussed out by Saban, but he never took it personally.

“My freshman year, I got cussed out every day in practice,” he said.

“It was on the same play. I messed up on the same play every time in practice, and he would be on my ass. It was one game where we played Ole Miss, and I got in really late and missed a tackle. I came over to the sideline, and he cussed me out. I’m like ‘s****, I felt like I was not going to make it. When he said it, I’m like ‘d*** am I terrible.’ I had to take a step back and realize what I needed to do to improve. In every practice he cussed me, he cussed me out because he cares. He knew I had something in me that was trying to push out of me. Once I realized it, I got used to it. I started to work harder, I studied more, I became more locked in.”

McKinney said he knew he would be okay if he gained Saban’s trust.

He did and became one of the most underrated, productive players for Saban.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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