Defensive end Najee Stevens-McKenzie (ASA/Brooklyn, N.Y.) received his first offer from UCF after his standout first season at the New York junior college, but he’s seen his recruitment expand this spring. After a series of college assistants streamed through ASA and spoke with the program’s coaches, Stevens-McKenzie had three power-five offers on the table.
The first came in from Pittsburgh May 23, and then Missouri and Maryland both entered the picture May 25. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound hybrid, who is from Ohio, was ecstatic with the sudden interest uptick and plans to check out each of his new looks this summer.
Stevens-McKenzie discussed each:
Pittsburgh: “I really do like the Panthers a lot. They have a running back that was a former teammate of mine, so knowing he’s there and we could possibly be reunited would be special. Then both my coaches at ASA and my high school coaches at Bedford (Ohio) know the Pitt staff well, and they’ve been talking to them constantly about me. There’s a lot of ties to the program, so I’m going to be taking a close look at Pitt.”
Missouri: “The Missouri coaches have been telling me they’ve liked my film since my season ended. They’ve been in touch ever since, but they said they couldn’t offer until 1.5 years after I transferred JUCOs, because of some rule in the SEC. [Stevens-McKenzie left Fort Scott C.C. in Kansas for ASA in February 2016]. But now they’ve offered, and they really want me there. They have one of my teammates down there now, and they want me there too. They think I can be a great pass rusher for them.
“Also, I visited there once before when I was in junior college in Kansas. It’s a beautiful place and an amazing atmosphere at Missouri. To have the opportunity to play there is a blessing.”
Maryland: “Maryland, that’s Coach [Pete] Lembo who’s on me. He’s a great guy and he’s liked me ever since he laid eyes on my film. He’s been up here and loves my game. We’ve been talking and he’s been informing me about Maryland and all that. He’s always said the offer would be there, and good things come to those who wait. I trusted the process, and he finally called [May 24] and said the opportunity was there for me.
"They want me for their [BUCK] spot, like a stand-up defensive end in their [3-3-5] defense. It sounds like a good role. I prefer to have my hand in the dirt most of the time, but I'll be talking to my coaches about what my best fit might be. Some schools that run like a 3-4 defense do like me as more of an outside linebacker.
“But, besides that, I don’t really know too much about Maryland yet. But Coach Lembo has told me some facts that caught my eye. It sounds like a really good school, ranked 40th nationally I believe. And then I know it’s right next to Washington, D.C., and it’s a great area down there. But I want to get down there and see what it’s like and meet all the coaches.”
Besides the Panthers, Tigers and Terps, Stevens-McKenzie is receiving interest from Syracuse, Cincinnati, Arizona State and Auburn. He’s not looking for any offers in particular, but would like to accumulate a few more options before it’s all said and done.
In the meantime, Stevens-McKenzie said he’ll be visiting Pitt in early June, soon after returning home to Ohio. Then, he’d like to hit Mizzou and Maryland later in June.
“I was actually thinking about committing pretty early, after I took a couple trips, but I’m not so sure now,” Stevens-McKenzie said. “I talked it over with my coaches at ASA and my high school, and we think it’s best to wait and take my time with the process. We’ll see how it all goes.”
Stevens-McKenzie grew up in Ohio and attended Bedford High, where he became a fairly well-known recruit. He had attention from numerous Midwest programs and several offers on the table, but didn’t qualify academically. Thus, he opted to go the junior college route and enrolled at Fort Scott in Ft. Scott, Kans. Stevens-McKenzie redshirted his first year at Fort Scott and then ran into a bit of trouble during the offseason. He wasn’t invited back on the team, so he decided to look for another JUCO. Two programs in the Northeast were interested, and Stevens-McKenzie ultimately opted to join ASA in Brooklyn.
The defensive end played seven games for the Avengers, recording about nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Stevens-McKenzie will graduate ASA this October, play out his sophomore season, and then enroll in a four-year program in December.
Currently, Stevens-McKenzie has two years to play two seasons, but he said he’s going to challenge for another year of eligibility after the situation at Fort Scott.
“But the main thing is just to find a place that wants me and needs me,” Stevens-McKenzie said. “I want to find a school where the coaches are going to make me a better player and put me in position to get to the next level. Things like location and campus don’t really matter as much to me; I just want a school that’s going to put me in a spot to succeed and really wants me.”