By Morgan Bryce
Opelika native and actor Jock McKissic will star in a new HBO movie, ‘Paterno’, that is set to air this spring.
According to filmmakers, ‘Paterno’ focuses on the life of Pennsylvania State’s and college football’s all-time winningest coach Joe Paterno, portrayed by Academy and Emmy award-winning actor Al Pacino, in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal in 2011.
Playing the role of defensive team captain ‘Tyler’, McKissic said he believes the emotionally-charged film will present Paterno’s story in a way that challenges people’s existing perceptions of both the coach and his tarnished legacy.
“From the side of the people who may think Joe Pa was wrong or deserved what he got, they’ll have some remorse for him, because his side of the story was never told. They’ll really see what happened, and be able to put themselves in his shoes,” McKissic said.
Landing a role in what figures to be a highly watched and talked about film is a dream come true, according to McKissic.
“To have the opportunity to have four scenes in such a big movie, this is definitely what I believe is a stepping stone for my career … it’s definitely going to open up some doors for me,” McKissic said.
McKissic’s pursuit of an acting career began when he was in the second grade, performing as Martin Luther King Jr. in a church play.
“I was originally supposed to say two lines, but I told my teacher that I wanted to do the whole speech. My mom would practice with me everyday until I got it,” McKissic said. “I stood up and delivered it, and got a standing ovation. That was the moment I knew that I wanted to feel that kind of joy again, through acting.”
Through his school years, McKissic balanced theatre and sports, but garnered the most attention for his stellar football career at Opelika.
In his senior year, McKissic said he received scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but eventually selected Clemson, citing it as having a “family atmosphere like Opelika.”
Unable to balance the demands of a football player and theatre major, McKissic instead double majored in communications and sociology, taking courses that he said would play a vital role in his development as an actor.
At Clemson, McKissic dominated. He received Freshman All-America honors, contributed to a perennial top-20 defense each season and finished with 68 tackles and 2.5 sacks during his college career from 2005-2008.
Prior injuries kept McKissic from an NFL career, but he played briefly with a couple of Arena League teams before attempting to become a member of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2012.
“I was in Atlanta training for Saskatchewan, which was where I met this guy named Mark Ellis. He’s a sports director who’s been involved in films like ‘The Program’, ‘The Longest Yard’, ‘Water Boy’, ‘Remember the Titans’ … pretty much any big sports movie you can name,” McKissic said.
Ellis offered McKissic an opportunity to be a part of USA Network’s ‘Necessary Roughness’ television series, an experience he said that opened his eyes toward a career in acting.
“Saskatchewan didn’t end up signing me, but I had a peace with my football career being over. I knew then that it was time to make the transition to my second job of being an actor,” McKissic said.
In 2013, McKissic enrolled in acting courses and began to immerse himself in the acting world, and has since worked with Adam Sandler and Shaquille O’Neal in ‘Blended’, bit scenes with Oprah Winfrey in ‘The Life of Henrietta Lacks’ and her television show ‘Greenleaf.’, commercials and recurring roles in television programs including ‘Saints and Sinners’, ’24: Legacy’ and ‘The Yard’.
McKissic currently splits time between Atlanta and Los Angeles, but still travels home for occasional visits with family and friends.
In addition to the Paterno release, McKissic hinted at some other big projects in 2018, including the production of his own feature film.
Reflecting on his swift rise in the acting ranks, McKissic said he wants to use his platform and voice to remind children that anything is possible with a little hard work.
“Being from here, the odds were against me in this industry. I just had enough courage, enough belief in God and enough crazy in myself to believe and work toward making this possible,” McKissic said. “I want all children everywhere, especially here in Opelika, to know that there’s nothing you can’t achieve, and I’m living proof of that.”
Follow McKissic’s Twitter and Instagram page to keep up with his career.