BEAVERTON, Ore. — Kahlil McKenzie had recruiting junkies on the edge of their seat Thursday.
They weren’t the only ones.
McKenzie didn’t fully inform the coaching staffs at Arizona and Tennessee of his intentions when they spoke Wednesday night.
“I didn’t really tell them, I hinted it,” McKenzie told InsideTennessee.
“A lot of guys were like, ‘Ah, that’s messed up. You couldn’t tell them?’ I was like, ‘Hey, I told them a while back it was just going to be whoever it is, that’s who it is.”
In the end, the Volunteers won out and landed arguably the biggest orange-clad recruit in half a decade or more. McKenzie gives Tennessee 20 commitments for the 2015 signing class, and he joins Buford (Ga.) High School’s Quay Picou as defensive tackle pledges.
It’s not often that a Scout five-star prospect that grew up in Wisconsin and lives in California chooses to play his college football at Tennessee. McKenzie is different as his ties run deeper than Lake Loudon.
Having a father and uncle that prepped at Austin-East High School in Knoxville and went on to play linebacker and offensive guard, respectively, for the Orange & White meant consistent trips as a youth to East Tennessee.
“It’s really just a second home and and everything I look for in a school, much like Arizona,” McKenzie said. “It’s just…you just get that feeling. We were talking about it out here (at The Opening). Guys are recruiting for their school while they’re looking at some other top schools. ‘Why don’t you like this school? Why don’t you like that school?’ I really got that same thing. You’ve got to have that feeling when you go to a school. The coach, when you’re there, ain’t gonna sweet talk you no more. You’re his now. He’s going to do whatever he wants with you. You need that feeling.”
Second-year coach Butch Jones has made it quite obvious that he takes the recruiting aspect of his job seriously and has played a vital role in securing commitments from some of the nation’s best. However, in McKenzie’s case, Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling played possibly an even more important part.
“I talk to coach Stripling more than I talk to coach Jones,” the Concord, Calif., resident said. “Most of the time when I talk to coach Jones it is because I was talking to coach Stripling first. So, yeah, me and him have a pretty good relationship.”
After the 2013 season, Tennessee graduated its entire starting defensive line. Given his skill level, the No. 1 player in the west should be a contender for the Volunteers’ two-deep in 2015 — even as a true freshman.
“My goal is always to get out there and prove that I can play right away,” McKenzie said. “It’s all talk until I get to school or whatever. When I get to school it’s going to be shutting up and playing. I like playing line-of-scrimmage stuff. We we do run-blocking stuff, I love that, that’s more my home. Pass rush, it just so happens I move pretty well, so I can get around guys. I’m pretty powerful. It turns out I can rush the passer pretty good, which is what a lot of coaches love about me. I love being two-dimensional, but yeah, I love it down there at the line of scrimmage.”
|Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling played an intricate role in landing McKenzie.|
The 6-foot-3 1/2, 341-pounder proved his worth against the nation’s best offensive linemen this week at The Opening, earning Defensive Line MVP of the Lineman Challenge.
“It’s a good feeling to know that I’m one of the top 5 guys here,” McKenzie said at Ronaldo Field. “Once you’re in the top 5, it’s just proving that you’re the No. 1 guy.”
The five-star admitted to losing a pair of reps to Hawaiian blocker and Scout’s No. 2-ranked center in nation Fred Ulu-Perry.
“He got me a little bit. It’s all right,” McKenzie said.
Whether he winds up as the No. 1 overall player in the country with Scout’s player rankings remains to be seen. However, given what McKenzie showed at De La Salle High School last fall and if expectations at Clayton Valley High School this season are fulfilled, he could get there.
Scout national director of scouting Scott Kennedy: “That size, speed combination at a premium position like defensive tackle in a class that doesn’t necessarily have a true No. 1, I think he’s the No. 1 prospect in the country. Again, he might not wind up at No. 1, it’s not the Scott.com rankings. He’s my No. 1 guy.” <.p>
McKenzie says he will attempt to visit Tennessee both officially and unofficially but has no plans to visit other schools, effectively “shutting it down” from a recruitment standpoint.
Discuss McKenzie's declaration with InsideTennessee analysts and subscribers by clicking here.