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Justin McKithen: “The Flaming Phoenix”

By Barry Every
SouthernPigskin.com
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As a junior he led the Phoenix in receiving with 23 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 16 carries for 230 yards and two scores, while returning nine kicks for 193 yards.

Last season Bloomingdale (Ga.) New Hampstead finished the season (5-6/1-3), bowing out in the first round of the GHSA-AAAAA versus Stockbridge (Ga.). The Phoenix have actually made the playoffs three consecutive years, but never finishing a season with a winning record.

 

In comes former Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern Head Coach Kyle Hockman who takes the reins of this fledgling program. In his nine years at the helm of McEachern the Indians won 10 or more games seven times, never finishing a season with less than eight wins.

One returning starter that Hockman will be relying heavily on, in his quest to win Region 2-AAAAA, is slot receiver Justin McKithen. As a junior he led the Phoenix in receiving with 23 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 16 carries for 230 yards and two scores, while returning nine kicks for 193 yards. As a sophomore McKithen totaled 219 yards of offense and three touchdowns while averaging 41.7 yards per kick return.

“He is a really good kid and everybody enjoys being around him; McKithen is likeable and well respected by his peers and teachers,” Hockman said. “He is a quiet person with a business type attitude and I’m just really excited to get the opportunity to coach him.”

At this time McKithen holds offers from Florida Atlantic, Savannah State and Western Kentucky. The 5-10, 158-pound speedster camped at Miami and South Carolina last year with plans on going back to Columbia, South Carolina this year as well as Coastal Carolina and the Mercer Mega camp. His lone unofficial visit was this past April to North Carolina-Charlotte.

“What jumps off film is his speed and quickness,” Hockman said. “Some guys are fast, and some are quick but McKithen possesses both. I’m very excited to utilize his skillset by getting him the ball in various ways. He may even play some defense for us this year.”

Speaking of speed, just a few weeks ago McKithen set a personal mark in the 100-meters with a 10.58. He also ran 21.42 in the 200-meters; those times garnered him the Region Championship in both events. He is now officially qualified for the GHSA-AAAAA State Championship. Last weekend at the Opening in Charlotte, North Carolina he blazed a 4.32 40-yard dash while also jumping 36.6-inches in the vertical testing.

“McKithen really reminds me of former McEachern and Duke Receiver TJ Rahming, they are similar in size and speed at the same juncture in high school,” Hockman said. “The body types are similar and TJ ended up the second leading receiver in Duke History.  I see him as a mid-major that will blow up in recruiting once coaches eyeball him. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t end up with at least a handful of more offers.”

McKithen is hoping for more recruiting attention and his recent talk with Florida Atlantic Offensive Line Coach Jeff Norrid proved enlightening and promising. 

“He told me how much he liked my speed and how I get open,” McKithen said. “He actually came to my game versus Hilton Head (S.C.) and was impressed as he said I am similar to guy they have on the team. They are recruiting me as a slot with the possibility of being a return guy.”

Academically he holds a 2.8 core GPA with a 900 on the first take of the SAT. He is already signed up for the June, 1 SAT with the hopes of getting over 1000. Everyone should know that reaching the magical 3.0 core GPA combined with a 1000 or higher on the SAT opens more recruiting doors.

McKithen realizes he is not a finished product on the field and speed can only get him so far. So what does he plan on doing to improve his skillset in order to attract more attention?

“I have the speed to separate and should definitely be considered a deep threat,” McKithen said. “I have to improve upon my route running; that will be my main focus this summer.”
His other focus is to getting New Hampstead on the winning path and making a deeper run in the playoffs. Though he has tasted the postseason experience three years in a row; the desire to play more than 11 games as a senior is paramount.

“We have to keep the underclassmen under control and discipline needs to play a bigger role with the team,” McKithen said. “My best asset is my leadership skills; I have to continue that because most of our losses last season really came down to us losing that discipline.”

College coaches interested in seeing McKithen’s blazing speed in person can catch him this spring versus Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County. The pair are set to faceoff in their annual spring scrimmage May, 17 at Morris Field located at beautiful Daffin Park.

Having evaluated him in person versus Waycross (Ga.) Ware County, Coach Hockman is absolutely right when he says his speed is visibly evident. Greek mythology states that a Phoenix obtains new life by arising from its own ashes. The only ashes McKithen’s opponents will see will be from the turf he scorches racing to the end zone.