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Gorman: McKenzie won't rest until he's the best

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Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Shai McKenzie used a WPIAL playoff failure as motivation for a record-setting junior season.

When Aliquippa stopped McKenzie cold in the Class AA quarterfinals last fall, the Washington tailback decided he needed to get faster and stronger.

“I didn't have any yards that game. I wasn't ready for that,” McKenzie said. “That was a big motivator.”

His success this fall has surprised even McKenzie, though it's the improvement he was hoping for when he went out for track and started lifting weights for the first time last spring so he could break more tackles.

“I knew I couldn't just rely on natural talent,” he said. “I knew I had a lot of potential and I have the grades, so I just knew I had to work out and get faster. Once I got my first D-I offer, I realized — and teams realized — that I was for real.”

With a 323-yard effort against Waynesburg in the Week 9, McKenzie broke Brian Davis' single-season school rushing record (1,703).

McKenzie (5-11, 210) knew that wasn't enough to quiet critics who consider the Interstate Conference soft.

“A lot of people believe that our conference isn't that great, that I just run on terrible teams,” McKenzie said. “I'm trying to make a statement in the playoffs and I think I did (Friday) night.”

McKenzie rushed for a WPIAL-best 260 yards and six touchdowns in a first-round victory over Shady Side Academy to improve his season totals to 2,162 yards and 36 touchdowns.

“I didn't think I would have 2,000 yards right now,” McKenzie said. “I was hoping for a better season, and I guess it came around.”

So have major-college programs, as McKenzie has scholarship offers from Pitt, Duke, Purdue, Toledo and Youngstown State. He also is receiving interest from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Ohio State, Temple and Wisconsin.

“I thought I was more of a smaller-school prospect,” he said. “As I progressed through the season, I realized I was getting better and can be an SEC player or someone who plays in big-time bowls one day.”

McKenzie needs only 803 yards to break Davis' career school record of 4,480 yards, but his focus is on proving he's an elite prospect in the Class of 2014.

“There's a lot of great athletes, but I'm just looking to improve,” McKenzie said. “I wasn't looking to break Brian Davis' record, or any record, but trying to get better.”

Until he's the best.

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