Kahlil McKenzie thinking big going into second season with Vols

Kahlil McKenzie thinking big going into second season with Vols

March 9th, 2016 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee sophomore defensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie gestures during practice Monday. McKenzie has football in his blood, as his dad, Reggie, and uncle, Raleigh, also played for the Vols.

Photo by UT Athletics


Five observations from Tennessee’s practice on Tuesday afternoon.

1. The black stripe on the helmet of wide receiver Preston Williams lasted only two days, and for good reason. The sophomore still bore the ceremonial mark after he had almost no preseason practice last season after he wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until late August. His teammates chose to have it removed after Tuesday’s practice.

2. After missing Monday’s practice due to a class conflict, Austin Smith made his spring debut Tuesday. The sophomore certainly looks the part of a defensive end, too. The converted linebacker has added weight and muscle to his frame and is nearing 260 pounds.

3. Spring practice is a big opportunity for redshirt freshman Venzell Boulware, the 6-foot-3, 306-pounder who is getting as much work at left guard as he can handle in the absence of Jashon Robertson. He is working alongside fellow redshirt freshman Drew Richmond on the left side. Jack Jones and Charles Mosley also are in mix at guard.

4. Freshman Marquill Osborne is getting some work at the nickel cornerback position behind Malik Foreman. The four-star recruit already looks stronger than he did at the Under Armour All-American Game two months ago.

5. Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom have the potential to be a nice one-two punch at tight end, particularly over the middle of the field in the passing game. Those two are big targets for quarterback Josh Dobbs.

— Patrick Brown

KNOXVILLE — Kahlil McKenzie is thinking big going into his sophomore season at Tennessee. And what's big to the 6-foot-3, 344-pound defensive tackle is oversized for most people.

Despite playing in games for the first time since his junior season of high school and doing so as a freshman defensive lineman in college football's toughest conference, McKenzie was a contributor for Tennessee last season, and the expectation is he'll take a leap in his second year with the program.

But McKenzie is focused more on team success than any personal merits.

"(I) just help my team in whatever way I can to win a national championship," he said after Tuesday's practice. "That's all of our goals. Of course everyone has it in the back of their mind, but that's the cool thing about us, especially on defense and the offensive guys, too. We all just want to win a national championship, so we're going to do whatever it takes to win that."

Everything was new last season for McKenzie, the son and nephew of former Vols Reggie and Raleigh McKenzie.

From managing his weight and improving his conditioning to adjusting to life in the SEC trenches, it was a learning experience for the freshman, but he views it as a base line upon which he can build.

"It was," he said, "a good place to start."

Many of the issues McKenzie dealt with last fall remain items on his to-do list. He's trying to continue to improve his conditioning and drop some more weight to help him move easier and become more disruptive, particularly as a pass-rusher. McKenzie already has improved his body by trimming off some "baby fat," as he put it, and adding definition.

"He's a man amongst boys," said sophomore linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr.

"It's really just getting used to the transition on the field and the capacity of getting past that freshman shock. He's having a good spring so far. I'm really excited to see where it leads him."

McKenzie was forced to sit out his senior season of high school football after transferring, so the only game he played in during the span of nearly two years was the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last January.

He grew up around football — his father is the general manager of the Oakland Raiders and spent a long time working for the Green Bay Packers — but playing big-time college football was new territory.

"Everything is new," McKenzie said. "Everything you're experiencing for the first time, but I kind of went into the whole process with my head down ready to work. I just embraced whatever came at me, and that's what I'm doing now. Whatever gets thrown at me, I'm just working to get through it.

"Whenever you get a year under your belt, you improve. I'm just looking forward to not being out there for the first time, but being out there for the second time and just having a new set of eyes on everything. I'm excited for that."

Understandably, the Vols also are excited for McKenzie's future.

"He's a great player," Kirkland said. "He's really powerful and everything, and he just needs to continue on. If he could keep going, he's a great player and he'll be good."

With Tennessee down to three available scholarship defensive tackles this spring, the opportunity is there for McKenzie, one of the team's biggest personalities and most confident players, to expedite his development.

"Of course it takes time to get used to playing football again, but excitement was what really drove me through, just being out on the field and being able to play football again," McKenzie said. "I appreciated that. I just like being out here, but it took some time, and once I got it things started to slow down. Just like they are now, things are a lot slower.

"I'm definitely able to see what's going on on the field and react a lot quicker."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.