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Freshman Kool-Aid McKinstry Impresses in First Alabama Start

Crimson Tide defensive back gets first career interception, but also has a bust in coverage in win against Mercer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kool-Aid McKinstry didn’t waste his opportunity when it came Saturday.

The true freshman defensive back earned his first start in the Alabama home opener against Mercer. After his effort in the Crimson Tide’s 48-14 thrashing of the Bears, McKinstry just might keep that starting job.

McKinstry, a Birmingham native, got his first career interception in the first quarter, and was solid in coverage most of the day.

“I think he did a good job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He knew the game plan and prepared well and played well in the game.”

Several times McKinstry was left by himself in man-to-man coverage, and he came through every time.

Except once.

McKinstry got beat on a play early in the fourth quarter and wide-open Mercer receiver Ty James caught an easy 22-yard touchdown pass.

“I’m not sure if he should have been in the back of the inside half or followed his guy over,” Saban said. “We busted on the back end of that one and busted on the other long touchdown they threw, too.”

His first interception came with 4:48 left in the first quarter. A Mercer pass was tipped by linebacker Drew Sanders, also making his first start. McKinstry quickly settled under the ball and caught it before it hit the turf.

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He almost got pick No. 2 in the second quarter when he reached in front of a Mercer receiver on a long pass by Fred Payton. The pass went incomplete.

McKinstry made a big first impression when he arrived on campus in January. He went through spring drills and showcased his talent in the A-Day Game with an interception, a fumble recovery and made a key pass breakup late in the game.

He was the backup to Josh Jobe last week in the season opener against Miami, but didn’t see significant action. Jobe and Jaylyn Armour-Davis did not see action Saturday due to injury.

McKinstry wasn’t the only Crimson Tide newcomer to step up big on Saturday. True freshman JoJo Earle snagged seven receptions for a team-leading 85 yards, and freshman quarterback Jalen Milroe saw action in the fourth quarter with seven rushing attempts for 33 yards.

Unlike McKinstry, Earle arrived on campus in August. But just like McKinstry, Earle made an immediate impression.

Earle, from Aledo, Texas, worked his way into the rotation in first quarter and was the top target for quarterback Bryce Young with six catches. Earle was a big target for backup QB Paul Tyson, who hit Earle for a 39-yard reception on his first attempt in the third quarter.

Nick Saban has hyped Earle’s punt return abilities for most of the fall and fans finally got to see the speedster in action. He didn’t disappoint.

Earle returned two punts for 45 yards, including one that went for 29 yards and was one juke away from a touchdown.

“We are trying to get JoJo some experience,” Saban said. “We think he’s an explosive player. We’ve been working him as a punt returner, trying to get him to gain confidence.”

Earle finished with 130 all-purpose yards.