Class of 2014 First Look: Shai McKenzie

Early enrollee Shai McKenzie might be the most intriguing recruit in Tech's 2014 class. McKenzie is a 5-11, 215 pound running back from Washington, Pennsylvania—a suburb of Pittsburgh. He put up astronomical numbers at Washington High School before tearing his ACL early his senior season. As a junior, he nearly eclipsed Rushel Shell's WPIAL single-season rushing record with 2,689 yards and 42 touchdowns. As a senior, McKenzie rushed for 647 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged a whopping 37.4 yards per score during his junior year which climbed to 46.2 yards per touchdown last season. By all accounts I've read, McKenzie's rehabilitation of his knee injury is progressing well. After committing to the Hokies over the hometown Pitt Panthers, Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, "Since suffering the injury, McKenzie has had surgery and rehabilitation. He said trainers have been impressed with his progress and he expects to be ready for the start of the 2014 season." Enrolling early will give McKenzie full time access to the Hokies physical therapy and rehabilitation team.

McKenzie's film is impressive, seemingly one long touchdown run after another. Waiting for him to show his stuff in Blacksburg will be tough, even though making sure his knee is one-hundred percent healed before contact is the right way for Tech to proceed. Pittsburgh area high school football has the reputation for being outstanding, but on most of the long runs, he isn't even touched so it is really difficult to ascertain how physical he is. However, to his credit many of those long runs stem from how he patiently sets up blocks, changes speeds, and then when he gets an angle cranks it into a second gear.

McKenzie runs mostly out of the I formation, with a mix of an odd wishbone set. He aligns deep, similar to the way that Auburn utilized Trey Mason under Loeffler. He takes toss sweeps and zone leads, gets to the line, and then patiently works down the line (with pads always facing north-south). His ability to slow down and speed up wreaks havoc with pursuit angles. His legs are huge, and he runs through arm tackles without breaking stride. He loves to slow down to get the defender to commit and then suddenly increase his speed to leave the defender on his belly. While he has a shorter stride and he is a more patient runner, he definitely has a streak of Kevin Jones. KJ loved to dead leg guys and bounce outside as well. Michael Holmes also had a similar running style, but was not anywhere near as fast at top speed as Jones or McKenzie. Did I say Kevin Jones? You decide.


Here are a couple of highlights that show off his primary strengths. Please note, you see McKenzie use the same moves again and again, so it is very easy to point out his strengths.

To start let's take a look at McKenzie running the toss sweep. Most of his highlight reel runs come off the sweep play, and he benefits from having an excellent fullback who does a great job of squaring up on defenders to set the edge. The fullback is good enough that I wouldn't be opposed to him getting a preferred walk on or scholarship offer.


The offense zone blocks to the right, with a crack block by the slot receiver. The slot man misses his block, and the fullback kicks him out to set the edge. McKenzie actually reads the play wrong and should cut inside the block of the fullback, so he finds himself one on one with the unblocked corner. Instead, he sells the inside fake and then bounces back outside, breaking the corner's ankles. He then crosses up the linebacker and cuts inside him. The slower pace lets the linebacker over run the play, then he changes pace to blow by the tackler.

I've established that McKenzie has terrific speed, with the ability to change gears, and wiggle to shake tackles. What's tricky however, is to find a highlight where the defense actually gets a paw on him. Let's take a look at one.


Washington runs a lead draw, where the line zone blocks to the inside right gap. The fullback leads into the interior, with the quarterback reversing out and giving the ball on a delayed handoff to McKenzie. The run is designed to go right up the middle, but McKenzie has the vision to see that the outside linebacker to his right has bitten too far inside, leaving him vulnerable to the crack back by the slot receiver. He also feels pressure from the right defensive tackle that beats the scoop block of the left tackle. Unlike Marshawn Williams, whose jump cut is violently to the outside, McKenzie smoothly changes direction, moves laterally, and then turns back up field. He then increases speed to gain an angle on the first tackler. He gives a little dead leg and step to the outside to beat the second guy. He cuts behind a potential third tackle and starts to move east-west. He runs through a fourth tackle. He stiff arms the fifth potential tackler. He then stops on a dime and stiff arms a sixth tackler and finally lopes into the end zone. I mean... what the hell can you say about that?

Most of my concerns about McKenzie stem more from what I don't know about him than what I do know. The film I watched doesn't include clips of him pass blocking or going out into patterns. I don't have tape of him breaking through tackles delivered by players of equal size and ability like with Marshawn Williams. And it's an unfortunate reality that his knee is a variable. However, his upside, based purely from what I watched on film, is unlimited. He could be a game breaking tailback.

Normal rehabilitation time for an ACL tear without significant damage to other ligaments is 6 to 9 months. I would not expect to see McKenzie in pads any in the spring, and with Williams added to the depth already available at tailback, I hope that the coaching staff is patient and allows McKenzie to fully rehab. He looks like he could really be a star in Blacksburg.

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The players we're bringing in this cycle have me PUMPED for Bristol, not to mention the next two seasons leading up to it.

I've said this a few times in various ways, so I have to agree with this completely. 2015 is going to be an amazing year. 2016 is when we go the distance. It'll be the best 2 years in VT history outside of '99.

that would be great.

“I hope that they’re not going to have big eyes and pee down their legs so to speak,” -- Bud Foster

Wow, those are some awesome highlights. I can't even do that in a videogame...

It was a catch

One thing that sticks out to me is how much he relies on the downfield blocking to get his yards. To the point where he is setting defensive players up to get blocked by the downfield WRs late in some of those plays. If we get some gus in at WR that fully buy into the system and we get some good blocking by the wideouts, he's going to feast on the Coastal division.

I get some serious Lesean Mccoy vibes...especially with the senior season ending injury in high school. I think if he comes back healthy this is a super steal.

Minority Report.

I always look forward to your writing, French!

This class is really something special. Our staff and Shai need to be patient and make sure he is 100% before he steps onto that field

I love the tickle of Dickel in my belly

Saw him walking around campus the other day with Andrew Ford without any brace/crutches. Hope that's a good sign for next season!


I read on another site that Trey Edmunds leg break was comparable to Kevin Ware's, the Louisville guard who broke his leg in the Final Four last year and had to redshirt this year.

VT has had a number of "should be ready for August" rehabs take until October or later before they are ready to go. Considering that, it sure would be great to have McKenzie and Williams primed.

Here are a couple of updates on Edmunds' rehab.

The first was published on Dec 1, 2013:

Trey's father Ferrell said, "The doctor said surgery went really well."

"Being Christian we put it in the hands of the Lord," Ferrell said Sunday. "Bones can heal [rather quickly], unlike knee [injuries]and ligament [damage]."

"In four months [Trey] should be running around again, God willing," Ferrell said.

The second was published on January 11, 2014:

"It's been coming along real good. I see myself progressing more and more each day," Edmunds said Wednesday night. "It's a long process, so the thing for me is to be patient. I think everything's coming along well."

He said he doesn't plan on participating in the Hokies' annual spring game so he can go through the entire recovery process and not rush to get back on the field. He said it should take him about five months to fully recover, which is right in the middle of the four-to-six month prognosis.

His fear if he attempts to rush back is sustaining another injury that could set him back even more and force him to miss more time.

"Patience is the key and with an injury like this, it can linger if you rush it and worse things can happen," he said. "I just want to just take my time, do everything the doctors tell me, continue to rehab and go to physical therapy as much as possible just to get it back to as close as I can to 100 percent."

I sounds like Trey's healing up nicely.

Although, I agree, there have been some recent injuries that have exceeded their projected healing time. D.J. Coles and Tariq Edwards pop into mind.

Hopefully this will allow Williams and maybe Mckenzie to get some significant reps in the spring.

Bones can heal quickly and they come back stronger. Trey was lucky that it wasn't a ligament injury because those come back weaker than before.

In Beamer & Co. We Trust #Livefor32 #DecadeofDominance

He's a great pick up! I loved this kid once i heard about him. I was one of the few that actually thought he would end up at VT.

If we can add to more classes the next two years that are as staked as this one we will be looking really good in a few years.

I just get stoked seeing that French has written another piece.
Thanks as always.
I'm dating myself, but back before the only way to get any information about signing day was through the Hokie Huddler newspaper-the annual recruiting issue would come in the mail a week or two after signing day. It would have a squib on each recruit-nothing near as in depth as French's analysis.
This stuff is golden.

Thanks, Braxton Pffaf will be next, and then we will move to the kids who will be signing on Wednesday.

Viva El Guapo

"I'm dating myself..."

At first I was like "Whoa man, we don't need those details..."

Then I was like "Ooohhhhh...well you're old."

As someone older than Shoog, I can say thanks for making me feel fossilized.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

I was half expecting it to be the start of some strange pickup line used on French...


It looks like Tech is getting back to the days of a great stable of running backs

The U invented Swag, but UVA invented Smug.

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

He changes speed so smoothly it's almost hard to follow. Man, I'd hate to have to try and tackle him. Let's get that knee healthy and then unleash him in the coastal to wreak havoc.


Healthy Shai and Marshawn will be super duper.
I think this may turn out to be the most talented and well-coached offense since '99. And with Lefty calling plays, I think we will once again own the Coastal. In the age of playoffs, this will be a very good thing.
FSU will have to come through us the next few years. Hear that Derrick and Javon? We want you on the good guy side of that fight!

What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

Here's a way-too-early nick-name for these guys: Gash and Burn


What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

Good start, but wouldn't slash and burn make more sense? especially in light of Williams jump-cut move.

I dunno, when a running back is getting huge chunks of yards/run, people often say something along the lines of "Man, we're really gashing them with the run!"

It was a catch

How about we have these two plus Trey and JC and we call them all "Harder Better Faster Stronger"


Daft punk reference? +1

What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

What about shake and bake?

Or was that one already taken...

Go Hokies!

haha, How about Pred & Shred? (Predator and Shredder)

Williams already seems to like the Predator likeness and Shai has the speed to "shred" the field.

Shai & Marshawn both look like studs. Trey was coming on strong before his injury. As much as those 3 guys have me excited...

Do we see them getting enough playing time given JC's experience, and not to mention Caleb and Mangus back there also? I know this question has been asked a bunch of times, but I can't think of a situation where one of our RB's workload actually decreased to make room for a younger guy to start.

...and nothing against JC, I like the kid and he works hard, just doesn't seem to me he's on the same page as these guys.

Yup, definitely don't see JC making much of an impact with who we have coming in.

I love the tickle of Dickel in my belly

I think JC falls way down on the depth chart this year. He has stuck it out for a couple of years, but has never been "the guy" even when given the opportunity.

I saw JC tweeted that he's trying to get up to about 200 pounds before next season. If he adds some power, he could very well surprise some of us. I know I'm in the minority, but I definitely saw some things I liked from JC during the year. He certainly has the ability to put his foot in the ground and make a nice clean cut upfield. The problems arose from just how easy it was for a defender to get him on the ground. It'll be fun to watch how the RB situation plays out this spring. I do know this: If JC's slipping down the depth chart, he's gonna go down swinging for the fences.

I think that the stiff running back competition a big-time star will emerge to bring VT back to its former greatness.

No question the competition will help. Hungry freshmen vs. upperclassmen desperate to hang onto their spots. Is it time for spring ball yet?

Competition + depth = success. Let's do this.


Unless you're a UVA QB. In that case, the fact that you go to UVA massively outweighs any sort of advantage gained by having quality depth and competition.

Sorry, I should have said "quality depth" as in multiple skilled players.


Well in theory, they had some quality depth with Rocco (not a bad QB when playing against non-Gray-coached-secondaries), Simms (they had to have him that highly rated out of HS for a reason, right?.... right?) and some of the younger guys. London and his staff have just horribly botched that entire situation the last few years. I'd even go so far as to say that if they had left in Watford during the Commonwealth Cup game this year, they very well may have had a shot at winning.

Rocco's the best QB they've had since Schaub. For better or worse.

Alright I'll give it one more shot:

Competition + quality depth + good coaches = success. Let's do this.


I vaguely remember him saying something similar last summer around the time he posted that workout video in preparation for the Alabama game. 200 lbs is a little bit of a stretch for someone his frame and height. Not saying its impossible, just hard to pack on that much muscle for someone so short.

Go Hokies!

Well, we'll see how he looks in a few weeks here. Then again at the end of the summer.

Do you think all these RB's with Edmunds, Mangus, Wright, Reid, Mckenzie, Williams, and Caleb slowly push Coleman out of the rotation? Is it just me or does anyone else think Coleman is the odd man out?

I dunno, I predict Coleman will be our #2/#3 this fall. At least 2 of Williams, McKenzie and Reid will red-shirt.

Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller, Exum

I would tend to agree with you here. I think McKenzie will RS to take care of that knee. Williams, to me, seems like the only incoming guy who could see meaningful minutes this season. It will be interesting to see how he picks up the playbook though. I know there has been speculation that Caleb didn't see a whole lot of time because of one or both of the following reasons: 1. He couldn't pass protect (although, as a linebacker, I figured he could do that) 2. He had trouble picking up the playbook. I could see either of those potentially slowing down any of the new guys (Williams included).

That being said, with Edmunds likely missing all of summer and most of spring I'm not sure how ready he'll be for the start of the season. He's our best option at the moment if he's healthy but that's kind of a question mark at this stage. Coleman is the 'scat' back but doesn't seem to be much of a power runner. If Edmunds can't go then I think it comes down to Williams or Caleb for the power running game...whichever one has the best spring. Jerome Wright could be the wild card for that option, but I have a feeling he'll stay at FB. I think there must have been a reason he didn't get an opportunity until the Sun Bowl, and I suspect the coaches will stand by that.

Mangus is also tough to read. He didn't play much but he seemed to do fairly well with the opportunities he had. I thought he was deceptively quick (but I'm not French or Mason so what do I know..) but there must be something lacking from his game to justify not giving him more minutes. I don't see him surpassing coleman this off season given the fact he couldn't do that during all of last season.

"I like to hit a home run early" ~ Whit "knows how to create a Buzz" Babcock

I think wright did too good a job in the bowl game to not get a real good look at carrying the ball. Maybe some swaps with an RB blocking for a FB run.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

At this point, we have a known in JC Coleman, an injured Edmunds & McKenzie, then a bunch of other people that really haven't gotten gotten a shot yet (or weren't utilized much when they did). Translation (also considering QB and OL uncertainty) = too early in the season to put JC on the bench.

Mangus is odd man out. Caleb will be a 4-star that never produces. I suspect both will transfer, but just my gut. I hope I'm wrong! I know Mangus was crazy about Tech when he signed, and Caleb of course, was the gem of 2012's class. They have to figure a way to use Caleb.

Eat your vegetables.

I have a strange feeling it will be Edmunds (if healthy) with Caleb as number 2 next year. I don't think they would waste a talent like that if they didn't plan to use him and use him a lot. I also remember last year how other players talked about his potential and would tell reporters to remember his name, etc. Other players in my recent memory who have had similar hype from teammates are Kam Chancellor and Dadi Nicholas.
I still gave you a leg because you could very well be right and at least one of the many RBs will be transferring or changing positions soon.

"Have you ever tried simply turning off the TV, sitting down with your children, and hitting them?"

I'd be really disappointed if we lost Mangus. When he's seen the field, I've thought he was the most dynamic RB of the bunch. Seeing him with the ball in his hands makes a horse happy.

Now, he wasn't as powerful as Edmunds. Maybe not as fast, either. But quick. Got that quick twitch. Fun to watch, fun to root for. I hope we can find a way to use him.

They've got to thin our RB depth chart. Suggestions? I think Mangus moves back to receiver. Caleb should get a look on defense such as safety or whip due to the lack of depth/experience at safety.

10 years in a row...

I thought Caleb was the receiver and that Mangus had always been a RB?

Caleb played WR until early last summer when he switched to RB. Mangus switched from RB to WR last spring/summer and the went back to RB in August when JC went down with his sprained ankles injury in August.

10 years in a row...