The redshirt freshman tight end from Mobile, who currently weighs in at 248 pounds after dropping a bit of weight during two-a-days, is seven pounds lighter than he was a few weeks ago, but is still a much, much more impressive looking tight end than he was when he reported last summer as a 215-pounder.
At this time last year instead of dropping a little bit of weight in the August heat, McKenzie was dropping too many passes. However, that has changed in the summer of 2006 with the help of intensive offseason drills that included many hours catching passes sent his way by a JUGS machine.
"Gabe is doing a much better job catching passes this year, which is something he has really worked on," says tight ends coach Steve Ensminger, who notes that he is pleased with the redshirt freshman's progress as a receiver and in getting physically ready for his role as a blocker at the SEC level.
"Gabe really needed to get bigger to handle his blocking assignments against the people he will be facing this year," Ensminger says. "I am pleased with his work ethic."
McKenzie says adding a lot of weight in the past year hasn't been a problem and has not made him feel sluggish. In fact, the tight end says the extra 30-plus pounds has not slowed him a bit. "I feel just like I did when I was 215 and I got bigger, stronger and faster."
Commenting on what he has done to improve his catching skills, McKenzie says, "I focus on watching the ball all the way in and make sure it doesn't get out my hands. I make sure I get it all of the way in and then I run."
McKenzie is pictured in the summer of 2005 after reporting to the Auburn campus.
McKenzie is shown this summer after eclisping the 250-pound mark.
McKenzie has improved enough that he is seriously challenging fellow redshirt freshman Tommy Trott for the No. 2 tight end spot behind senior Cole Bennett. Trott, a standout in spring training, has not been catching the ball with nearly the consistency he showed in the spring and Trott admits that he is in a bit of a slump that he is trying to work his way out of before the start of the season.
McKenzie notes that even though he is competing with Trott for playing time, the tight ends consider themselves a close-knit group and they are working to excel as a unit with a goal of becoming the best set of tight ends at Auburn during the Tommy Tuberville Era.
On Tuesday, McKenzie and the rest of the Tigers had their first practice since the spring back on their regular workout fields at the football complex. He notes that it is a big improvement over the intramural fields where the Tigers had their "preseason camp."
McKenzie and his teammates have the day off on Wednesday as fall semester classes begin and will be back on the practice field on Thursday as they continue preparations for their Sept. 2nd opener vs. Washington State.