The 6-foot-3, 340-pound interior terror went on national television, pulled the bucket on his dome and told the free world that in 13 months he’d be strapping on the Power T helmet.
Since that moment, McKenzie maintained his status as Scout No. 1 player overall in the 2015 signing class in spite of not being allowed to play his senior season for Clayton Valley (Calif.) High School. A handful of U.S. Army All-America Bowl practices cemented his ranking.
Ample praise and lofty expectations from national recruiting analysts can sometimes be viewed as a burden. McKenzie took it all in stride.
“Whenever someone tells you they think you’re the best player in the country, that’s a tremendous honor,” McKenzie told IT last winter. “Definitely something that everybody wishes that they could say about themselves. It’s a tremendous honor. Definitely grateful for it. Told all the guys at Scout when they told me that I was grateful for it.
“It’s a great honor. I mean I try not to dwell on the ranking and things like that because it doesn’t really help me on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon pretty soon with how somebody is going to block me or anything like that. It just looks good, but it’s a good feeling. I guess it helps with how you feel about yourself and things like that. I mean it’s a really cool thing to be the No. 1 player in the country. It’s definitely the product of a lot of hard work because us recruits and other people know how hard we really do work to get to where we are.”
Magazine covers and thousands of Twitter followers later the son of the Oakland Raiders general manager and former Vols linebacker Reggie McKenzie hasn’t let one ounce of life beyond football change his character or how he treats his fellow man.
Third-year coach Butch Jones signed the Scout No. 4 and No. 5 classes in back-to-back recruiting cycles. He’s seen egos.
McKenzie doesn’t follow suit.
“As humble as a young man as I’ve ever been around,” Jones told InsideTennessee during camp. “Humble, very unassuming, appreciative for everything that comes his way, very competitive and just a great, great young man of character.”
Jones has a wife, Barb, and three boys — Alex, Adam and Andrew — under his roof. Every family man wants people of high moral standing around those he loves the most. Thus, it's without hesitation that Jones invites his 18-year-old defensive tackle to his home.
“He’s come over to my house a few times, and he’s just appreciative for everything,” Jones said.
On the field, McKenzie is in the infancy stages of his Southeastern Conference football career. Tuesday marked the former five-star’s first time putting cleats onto the surface of Haslam Field. It was a muggy day that Jones called a “great starting point” for McKenzie, who will continue his knowledge of his position under assistant coach Steve Stripling.
McKenzie, who wears No. 1 for Tennessee, won’t be helped by any analysis or evaluation of his talent. When he gets in a stance this October across from NFL-bound linemen such as Alabama center Ryan Kelly and Arkansas guard Denver Kirkland, they’re not going to be in awe. They plan on whipping him like they do a majority of their foes every Saturday every all.
Jones understands this. As excited as he is to see a newcomer that can already press over 400 pounds off his chest attempting to collapse the pocket for the Big Orange, the coach places palms out as if to slow the anticipation.
“It was great to see him out there,” Jones said, “but I think we also have to be very conscientious and very cognizant that he’s still a young man developing. A lot of times we put so much pressure on these kids to come in here at this high level and they are going to take time to develop. He’s not anywhere near a finished product, and he’d be the first to tell you.”
See for yourself how the McKenzie “product” looked in his first few hours at camp with the Volunteers by clicking play on the InsideTennessee video below:
McKenzie goes through 1st practice with Vols