McKenzie Combats Adversity with Confidence

There is a common football saying which claims that cornerbacks have to be cocky and posses a short-term memory in order to succeed. Senior Chris McKenzie exemplifies that notion. The cornerback knows that his unit has suffered a big loss when R.J. Oliver was done for the year. However, this fact doesn't shake his belief in himself and his teammates.

Against UTEP, Chris McKenzie had three solo tackles and a pass breakup. More importantly, for long stretches of the game, the Miners were content not to run any passing plays to his segment of the field. "I think I played well," he said of his performance last Thursday, "and everybody else played well too. It did feel like they weren't passing to my side too much, but I know I'll be tested as the season goes on. I won't take anything for granted. I still have to finish every play strong, and keep my eyes on the receiver." He added that utilizing his speed effectively and moving his feet are other aspects of his game he continues to work on.

With R.J. Oliver out for the year, and Riccardo Stewart sitting out the season opener, much has been said concerning the secondary playing with a great sense of urgency. While McKenzie was pleased with the play of the Sun Devil defensive backs, he doesn't sense that same feeling of pressure that others talk about. "I knew we'll be all right, because we have some good guys behind them (Oliver and Stewart) in Golden and Barrett," he commented. "They did step up. They (UTEP) are lucky that R.J. and Riccardo didn't play, because they were able to get some stuff done. We do miss them, and I can't wait to see Riccardo bring it this week. He'll knock somebody out (smile)."

The absence of Oliver has helped McKenzie elevate himself as the leader of the cornerbacks group. Or has it? "Even when R.J. was playing I felt we were both leaders," claimed McKenzie. "With him gone, I'm just keeping at the same pace. Nothing is different. Yeah, there's probably more focus on me now, but I don't feel being more of a leader now than I was before."

Like the vast majority of junior college transfers, the former Glendale (Ariz.) community college standout, had an average first year while he acclimated to the Division I level. Last season, he collected 39 tackles; four pass breakups, and a lone interception. Through out the pre-season, and the 2004 opener, his progress has been evident ("A blind guy can even see that (smile).").

On the other hand, childhood friend Dale Robinson, another Glendale transfer, has been arguably the Devils' best defensive player during fall camp. Even though the linebacker doesn't follow the typical progression of a transfer, McKenzie isn't astonished at the least. "That's my boy," he exclaimed. "Dale came in the first year and is playing well. He doesn't need two years (smile). All he can do now is get better and better, and he's already playing very well. I'm not surprised. I told him ‘when you come in here just play like know how to play, and trust me you'll be starting.' So far he's out there making plays."

ASU's next opponent showed a great scoring ability, in their heartbreaking 48-45 loss at TCU. Nevertheless, McKenzie is hardly daunted by the Northwestern offense and the 45 points it scored last week. "We'll see you on Saturday," he said with a smile. "I ain't gonna talk right now, maybe later down the line when we play USC or somebody else. I'm gonna chill, and we'll see what happens. To me, nobody is impressive. You have to be cocky and know that you can shut down anybody." It may a season in its infancy, but thus far that mantra has worked well for the cornerback.

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