Gazing onto the practice field during one of Ole Miss’ early spring sessions, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee became perplexed by what he saw.
Yards away, a lean 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback was launching the ball 40, 50 and even 60 yards with pinpoint accuracy.
Confused, Lee turned to greet his gunslinger, finding a pleasant surprise.
Mackey dazzled his new coach and coordinator early, but what really impressed Lee was that through the first eight or nine practices Mackey's accuracy didn’t fade.
“At first I would say he has a long arm,” Lee said. “Now I say he’s still doing this. Basically, the first two-thirds of practice he created more big plays either running or throwing than any of our other quarterbacks.”
And with that, the former East Mississippi Community College standout consumed Ole Miss headlines.
When he wasn't throwing over defenders, he was running past them, becoming a serious contender for the starting quarterback spot that seemed likely to go to senior Nathan Stanley if he stayed consistent this spring.
However, it was Mackey who had early success with Ole Miss’ new offensive system and it was Stanley who eventually fell behind and left the program earlier this month.
Sure, there were -- and still are -- hiccups for Mackey. While his athleticism and passing skills wowed early on, he struggled with getting his signal-calling down and found himself nose deep in his playbook away from the practice field.
He also has had to deal with a speech impediment that has plagued him throughout his life. It was something he didn’t worry about until he got to Oxford.
It was uncomfortable to work through, but after continuously reciting plays with Lee and head coach Houston Nutt, Mackey said his speech became less of an issue toward the latter parts of spring, which enhanced his progress.
“Right now, I feel like I’m on the right track, so it’s going good,” Mackey said.
“I came a long way from last year. My teammates really like the work I’ve been doing and the coaches like the work I’ve been doing. I want to help my teammates out and help this program win.”
During the Rebels’ spring game, Mackey showed his progress by leading a Red team comeback, going 9-of-18 passing for 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 17-17 tie.
Mackey said his spring development came from countless hours of studying and working with Lee and the work he put in at junior college. Arriving at East Mississippi as a scrawny, 170-pound prospect, Mackey bulked up close to the weight he is now and really started learning about making reads in the spread offense.
“My first junior college game was against Randall Mackey,” cornerback Wesley Pendleton said. “When I played against him all I heard was, ‘Randall Mackey, Randall Mackey.’ When I first got here I was like, ‘OK, I have to do what I have to do against Randall Mackey, one of the best that ever played in junior college.’ Whenever I make a play on him it makes me feel better.”
Mackey exits spring in quite the battle. Fellow juco transfer Zack Stoudt, who Lee said caught on to the new passing scheme the fastest, and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti, who might have the best tools of the three, are right with Mackey for the starting spot.
Mackey separated himself from the rest of the quarterbacks for most of the spring, but now sees a tight race that he doesn’t anticipate being settled until sometime during fall workouts.
Lee said finding a quarterback isn’t an immediate priority. He wants to see what happens after his players continue to digest the offense over the summer before any decision is made.
“I’m not in a hurry,” he said. “Who cares when we name a quarterback? I’m not concerned about who that is right now as much as teaching them [the offense] a second time and seeing who takes it and runs with it.”