FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – He visited the hospital to lift the spirits of others, but he was the one who walked away with the gift.
Life is bigger than the game of football for Takkarist McKinley.
McKinley's life journey has been one full of hardships and obstacles that he's overcome – his mother abandoned him when he was 5 years old, he never met his father. He grew up in a city once ranked among the nation's most dangerous cities with little to no stability.
He could have used all of the reasons above to settle for a less-than-ideal-life for himself. But instead, he used it as motivation, thanks to the impact one person made on his life.
That person was his late grandmother, Myrtyle Collins, who he dedicated draft night too after fulfilling the promise he made to her while she was on her deathbed.
Now, McKinley has a platform bigger than he's ever had in his life to make an impact on the lives of others.
And that's exactly what he's doing.
When Atlanta's first-round pick visited Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital on Tuesday as part of the Falcons' Hometown Huddle event, he saw a bunch of blank mini helmets sitting on a table.
Those helmets were supposed to be for him and the other players to sign and give to the children.
McKinley picked up one of the blank helmets, and rather than signing it with his autograph, he asked for their autographs.
"I just thought it would be cool if I got their autographs," McKinley said. "They were kind of shocked like 'you're supposed to be signing my stuff.' It just made them smile to put their name on my helmet. It's bigger than me. I just thought it would be nice."
McKinley doesn't question why he never had certain things, he's about taking advantage of what he does have.
And the opportunities he has to change the lives of others with the platform professional athletes have, is something he cherishes on all levels.
"It means a lot. Those kids are going through things way worse than what I've been through. For me to just come in and just put a smile on their face, it means a lot."