Introducing the 2003 Class: Chris McKenzie

Whether it is his blinding 4.1 speed or the fact that he hails from New York City, suffice that say that Chris McKenzie is one of the most intriguing players in ASU's 2003 recruiting class. DevilsDigest sat down with the cornerback and talked about his amazing journey from the Big Apple to the Valley of the Sun.

The New York City borough of Queens is known for producing far more basketball prospects than football ones. Nevertheless, these aren't the only odds that the Glendale Community College cornerback was facing "I grew up like any ordinary kid in New York." Says the NJCAA first-team All-American, "I really loved football, but sometimes other things got my mind off of it. I was exposed a little to all the gangs and the crime in New York. It was hard to get away from all that and come here, but I still miss New York." A family tragedy worked in a devine way to stir him to the straight and narrow. "My mom died when I was ten, but she was a big influence when she lived and also after she passed away. She helped me stay on the right path, and I'm lucky that I was able to overcome all that stuff."

Another big influence was the person he says he admires the most – his brother David. "My brother was looking at some Junior Colleges for me. He wanted me to get away as far as possible from the trouble, so I won't get back into it. He saw that Glendale won a national championship so he thought I should go there." David McKenzie is definitely a family figure who leads by example, as he is working on his Master's degree at Stanford."

McKenzie committed to ASU on May 20th of last year, and it's no coincidence this happened shortly after he met former Sun Devils cornerbacks coach Ron English for the first time. "Coach English was real cool, and made me feel like I was already on the team. He told me I would fit real nice in their defense…where I come from you don't get that many offers from colleges. I was just so happy that they wanted me and they're a division I program. Plus, it was close to school." The cornerback, who was rated as the No. 46 overall junior college prospect in the country, was also receiving early attention from most of the Pac-10 schools, as well as Colorado St. and Nebraska. The JC transfer had to endure the byproduct of an early commitment, which is a longer than usual barrage of pressure from other colleges vying for his services. "Those schools didn't let up after I committed to ASU, but it was no pressure – I knew where I was going. It was just part of the recruiting process. I just kicked back and had fun playing my last year at Glendale."

Listening to the admiration in McKenzie's voice when talking about Coach English makes one wonder how he felt about Chijoke Onyenegecha's decision to renege on his signing with ASU due to English's departure. The cornerback offered this thoughts on the topic. "He (Onyenegecha) believed what Coach English was telling him. Coach English really becomes a friend to you when he meets you. He probably was disappointed that Coach English left, but I think he should have stayed with his commitment. Once you sign it's a done deal. That's how you make yourself a man – you don't back out of it. He really should have stayed with it."

The Region 1 Player of the year does admit that he was disappointed to see English leave, because he was the only coach from ASU that ever recruited him. However, the cornerback is also well aware of other variables in the issue, as well as the big picture. "I have dreams of playing in the NFL and him leaving won't stop me. At this level it's not fun and games anymore – it's business. Coaches gotta do what they gotta do sometimes, so I understand. But I never thought to leave ASU…everybody told me (current ASU's cornerbacks coach) Coach Ramsey is cool, so it will be all right."

Ever since word got out about McKenzie's jaw dropping speed, the phrase New York minute suddenly took on a different meaning for the maroon and gold fans. The JC transfer sounds like a person that will never take for granted his physical abilities, nor will he publicly boast about them. "I was real happy and surprised when I ran that fast. Running a 4.1…is unbelievable (smile). I just have to thank god for this. I haven't played football for three years before I came out to play in Glendale. My first year I ran a 4.3, and I was barely here. I think it's more god given talent than just hard work. I just feel very blessed. But speed isn't everything you need to play cornerback. It's something nice to have, but you always need to get better doing other stuff too. Nobody is perfect." Aside from his speed, he has also been measured as having a vertical jump of 40 inches.

In his sophomore year at Glendale Community his ball hawking skills were quite evident. He collected two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown (a feat he also accomplished his freshman year), as well as three fumble recoveries (two for touchdowns), two forced fumbles and two quarterback sacks. When we asked him to self-asses his skills he replied: "I try to learn everything once, and I always compete hard. I need to work on my technique, and get that down."

The cornerback position opposite ASU's only true lock-down corner, R.J. Oliver, remains somewhat unsettled coming out of spring practice. How does McKenize feel about his chances of immediate impact in the 2003 season? "I know I have to battle to get some playing time. Everybody on the sidelines thinks he can ball and do better, but if you're not out there you don't know hard it is. I don't feel pressure to be the starter. I'm gonna battle and if I get it I get it." McKenzie plans to join several other newcomers in the next few weeks and participate in the off-season conditioning program.

From the streets of New York to ASU's campus in Tempe, Chris McKenzie's voyage has been quite eventful. When he pauses to reflect on it, he realizes that "It was a crazy journey but it all paid off. I came out here knowing nothing, and now I feel that the dream is coming true. But the dream isn't over yet, there's still some other stuff to achieve." With all that Chris McKenzie has accomplished, in face of obstacles that had defeated some of his peers back home, his greatest wishes and hopes stand an excellent chance of coming to fruition in the Pac-10.

Recruit Profile

Name

Chris McKenzie

School

Glendale Community College (Glendale, AZ)

Position

CB

Height

5-10

Weight

185

Date of Birth

3/17/82

Birthplace

Queens, NY

Nickname

"Never got one."

Favorite TV Show

"SportsCenter"

Favorite Movie

"Friday"

Favorite Singer

"50 Cents"

Favorite Food

"Steak"

Favorite Drink

"Gatorade"

Favorite Athlete

"Michael Jordan"

Favorite Pro Team

"Los Angeles Lakers"

Person you most admire

"My brother David. We went through the same things, but instead of falling like other people he stayed on top."

First Football Memory

"In Pop Warner we were playing against this team that never lost. First play of the game I almost break it for a touchdown and I get tripped. I wasn't running a 4.1 back then (smile). But I scored and got an interception later in the game."

One Thing most people don't know about me

"It's personal. I rather not say."

Why did you choose ASU?

"Coach English and Coach Koetter. Those are coaches you want to play for."

Where do you want to be in ten years?

"Retired from the NFL (smile). If the NFL doesn't work out, I would like to work in accounting and own my own business."

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