Washington's McKenzie chooses Virginia Tech over Pitt
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He talked of loyalty, including the lack of it, in his opinion.
He talked of family and a desire to please his mother and father, who live 500 miles apart.
He talked of wanting to make an immediate impact at his new school despite having knee surgery that robbed him of most of his senior season.
Washington running back Shai McKenzie announced intentions Friday to attend Virginia Tech, turning his back on Pitt and Georgia Tech, his other finalists.
Pitt wanted him, McKenzie said.
“They (told) me, ‘I'm the guy, I'm the guy,' ” he said.
But coach Paul Chryst puts a high priority on running back, and he has verbal commitments from four-star Chris James of Illinois, Qadree Ollison of Buffalo and Shady Side Academy's Dennis Briggs, who may move to another position. McKenzie took it as a sign of disrespect.
“I like the coaching staff there,” he said. “There was just a lot of uncertainty about Pittsburgh. I'm a target in the area and a four-star guy, and they go out and get three other running backs. They are good, but you have somebody in your backyard.
“I felt like the loyalty wasn't all the way there.”
Yet that was only one factor in McKenzie's decision. If it were the only reason, he might have had an even more difficult time making up his mind. Virginia Tech hasn't been idly waiting for McKenzie's answer, either, getting previous commitments from three-star backs D.J. Reid and Marshawn Williams from Virginia.
Family also was a major consideration, with his mother, Misty Nolder, living in Atlanta and his father, Sean McKenzie, in Washington.
“Do I want to be away from my mom? Do I want to be away from my dad? Or be in between?” he said. “I'm a family guy, so I felt like equal distance will be a factor.”
The other aspect of McKenzie's recruitment is the torn ACL that he suffered three months ago.
Washington coach Mike Bosnic, a former Pitt offensive lineman, said McKenzie is ahead of the original six- to eight-month rehabilitation period.
“We have to make sure he is not pushing himself too fast,” Bosnic said. “He is convinced he is (going to be ready for summer training camp).”
Said McKenzie: “The (Virginia Tech) offense has been struggling a little bit, but I feel like I can come in and make a difference.”
McKenzie will graduate early and enroll in January to get a head start on learning the Hokies offense and take advantage of the free rehabilitation.
“It's really expensive,” he said. “Instead of getting it three times a week, I will be getting it six times a week.”
Bosnic believes the 6-foot, 212-pound McKenzie will be successful after rushing for 4,855 career yards despite a truncated senior season.
He said Washington, eliminated in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, might have advanced to the state title game had McKenzie stayed healthy.
“He is the kind of guy who comes around every 20 or 30 years,” Bosnic said.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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