Kahlil McKenzie is cooler than you are — let’s just get that out of the way right now.
In the last two months, the massive five-star defensive tackle from Concord, California, has:
- Seen former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden wear McKenzie’s hat of choice — a bucket hat — in a picture to try to persuade his college decision.
- Talked with about every major Division I football coach on the phone.
- Skyped with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
- Had a large lecture class at the UA pose for a picture with a cryptic message encouraging McKenzie to attend Arizona.
- Been the object of affection for more than 7,000 followers on Twitter.
The list goes on and
on, and if the start of it wasn’t cool enough for you,
McKenzie, listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds, is also the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. The guy pretty much grew up in an NFL locker room.
So yeah, he’s got it pretty good.
But all that stuff is happening for a pretty good reason. Just ask Arizona and Tennessee.
The Scout.com recruiting service ranks McKenzie, a defensive tackle, as the top prospect on the West Coast and the 10th-best prospect in the nation. He had 74 tackles and 12 sacks last season as a junior at famed Concord (California) De La Salle High School.
In May, he announced a top 12 of Arizona, Tennessee, USC, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, UCLA, Miami (Fla.), Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Oregon and Texas Tech.
Earlier this month he said goodbye to a combined 83 national championships between the other 10 schools and decided to focus all of his attention on the Wildcats and the Volunteers.
“Those are the two that I thought would be the best fit for me and how I play,” McKenzie said in a phone interview this week. “I love Knoxville, and I love Tucson. To me, the city of where the school is, is a big deal. I really liked it both places. They both have strong ties to their sports teams, and I really like that.”
The defensive tackle will pick between the two July 10. He’ll announce his decision on national television at Nike’s “The Opening” in Oregon.
“I think I sorta have an idea of what I’m going to do,” McKenzie said. “I’ve narrowed it down, and everyone knows what I’m looking for. These last few weeks are just about making sure I know what I’m doing.”
In this two-school battle, the Volunteers have one advantage that Arizona can’t match: Reggie McKenzie, who played five years in the NFL for the Los Angeles Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, was born in Knoxville and played collegiately at Tennessee.
The man’s picture is plastered all over Tennessee’s Anderson Training Complex. It’s no secret how McKenzie feels about his alma mater.
The good news for Arizona, though, is that dad is staying out of this one.
“He’s allowed me to go through the process and take it all in,” Kahlil McKenzie said. “He hasn’t been pushy at all and has been letting me do my own thing. It’s been really cool. He really helped with a lot of things. Like if I didn’t know a coach, he would, and he’d reach out.
“Of course Tennessee is his school, but he hasn’t been talking bad about the other schools or anything. He’ll just drop little hints like ‘orange is a nice color’ or something like that.”
The advantage may swing back to the Wildcats, especially if Reggie McKenzie stays in the background.
Kahlil has a better chance of making an immediate impact at Arizona on a defensive line that will likely start three seniors this season. The Wildcats have made defensive line a priority for the 2015 class.
“I think the biggest priorities are always going to be the offensive and defensive lines,” UA’s director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel Matt Dudek told the Star earlier this month when speaking generally about the 2015 class. “You always have to get those guys in there. I think we need to up the ante there, and we’ve done a good job so far this class getting good beats on guys on the offensive and defensive lines.”
The UA’s defensive scheme also appears to be more McKenzie-friendly. The Vols play four down linemen, while the UA plays just three. At Arizona, McKenzie would be the featured nose tackle on a three-man line.
And then there are all the things McKenzie likes about Arizona. He visited Tucson in April, which was a bit of an upset in its own right. With all of the traditional powers coming after him, McKenzie told the Arizona coaches he would visit the campus, and “if I make a promise, I’m going to keep it.”
He took his visit in April, three months after telling UA coach Rich Rodriguez, Dudek and the rest of the staff he would come. The Wildcats rolled out a cardinal-red carpet for him.
“I came out there and just loved it,” McKenzie said. “They made everything stand out for me. Through this process, I’ve felt like I really need to meet all the coaches face to face. And I loved what the Arizona coaches had to say and how they said it.
“It’s a real family atmosphere there. Those coaches have been together for a long time, and it’s cool how close they are. They really want to win.”
Games and the McKenzie sweepstakes, that is.