"I'm real excited for the NFL draft," said Chris McKenzie. "I just can't wait to achieve that goal and play in the NFL." The cornerback undoubtedly improved his stock in the NFL combine where not only did he run a 4.3, but also posted a 45-inch vertical jump. "I wasn't surprised," he said. "Working out with ‘House' (ASU's strength and conditioning coach), I knew where I stood, and how well I can do. I couldn't wait to show everyone what I could do. I knew he (House) could get me right."
McKenzie stated that he was very pleased with his workout at the Kansas City Chiefs, and mentioned the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys as two other NFL clubs that have shown interest. "I really don't care where I go to," he claimed. "Coming from where I came from any team would be good. Playing Division-I was great. The NFL is a bonus."
The Sun Devils' defense had a solid 2004 season, and naturally its premier cornerback had a great deal in that success. While McKenzie was satisfied, he knows that as far as his skill development goes – the sky's the limit. "I felt I performed well," he commented. "I did what I needed to do to help us win. Being coached by (ASU's cornerbacks coach) Mark Carrier – he brought out a lot of me and made me play to my potential. I think I can play even better, but he thought me a lot."
"No matter who you are, even Champ Bailey, there's always something you can get better at," McKenzie continued. "I just need more experience and little better technique. My speed is nice but it's not everything. I think I have other good skills that help me out like my vertical."
We asked McKenzie to look back and reflect on his maroon and gold career, He quipped that his best memory was just hanging out with his friends, but added that: "As far as a memorable game there's a lot to pick from. Our comeback wins against North Carolina, Stanford are probably my best memories."
Not only is McKenzie credited with a solid performance on the field, but some may attribute the outstanding play of his best friend from New York, Dale Robinson, who was arguably the MVP of the Sun Devils' defense 2004, to McKenzie as well.
"I don't have a part with his play," he said as he smiled, "but I was helping him when I was pushing him and saying ‘come on man, you can play better than that.' I can't take credit for the way he played. I did bring him out here but that's about it. He's a great player, and he's definitely joining me in the NFL. He plays exciting football and that's what people want to come out and see."
McKenzie has yearned for a long time to play on Sundays. As his career progressed, he realized that he was closer and closer to that feat. He's proud of what he accomplished, and cannot wait to see what will happen following the draft. "My career was good so far and now in the NFL it can only get better. It's gonna be a lot of fun (smile)"
Jimmy Verdon (pictured) might as well have his middle name changed from Lee to versatility. How else would you describe a player that was recruited a safety, switched to linebacker upon his arrival at ASU in 2000, played defensive end in coach Koetter's first three years at ASU, and ended his senior season playing defensive tackle with great success.
Has Verdon been surprised by his performance in all these various positions? "Yes and no," he replied. "I'm a person that played a lot of positions and adjusted to each and every one of them. I'm glad I got it down." According to the defensive lineman, NFL teams have taken notice too of his ability to play various positions. "At the combine I talked to pretty much all the teams," he said. "I feel pretty good about that, because a lot of teams said that they like to draft someone like me that can play defensive end and tackle. That's better than picking up two different guys. I would like to play defensive tackle because it seems you're more in the mix, but I already played defensive end too and did well so it doesn't matter to me."
When he self assessed his skills, he once again made reference to his adaptability. "I do need to work on more on pass-rush moves and having more of a repertoire," he said. "At defensive end I can play the run real well, and at tackle I can pass rush well. I'm like the perfect combination of defensive tackle and defensive end."
Verdon feels that his performance in the combine, as well as Pro Day, was up to his standards. In terms of interested teams he stated that: "I had a real good vibe from the Cowboys. The Redskins and the Lions have talked to me to. But I don't care who drafts me. Wherever you want me I'll play."
Just like McKenzie, Verdon was pleased with his last season at ASU. "I think I did very well," he remarked. "I always put the team first because I knew that if we played well everything would fall into place. It was hard playing defensive tackle for the first time in my senior year, and the first two games were rough. But then I just nailed it down, did my thing, and I had fun."
Having fun is also the advice that Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowler and former ASU teammate, Terrell Suggs, gave him in anticipation of the draft and the ensuing professional career. "He told me what to expect in training camp, and that if I work out hard I'd be fine. He said he would put in a good word with the Ravens for me (smile)."
Verdon said that in these days before the draft he's feeling relaxed, and enjoying his wife and two kids now that there's no football (at least for time being) or school to occupy his mind. "I think I'm shaping up well for the draft," he said. "I've been hearing that I could be a late first day (i.e. third round) or early second day (fourth/fifth round). It just depends how many defensive linemen are drafted before me. All you need is one team to like you."
McKenzie and Verdon Eager for Professional Careers
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