Tyrone McKenzie. Photo by GoUSFBulls.com
If the Patriots are looking for a player who works hard and can overcome adversity, Tyrone McKenziecertainly qualifies.
The only boy in a family of four children, he had to be the man of his household at an unusually young age. When he was nine, his father, Rupert, succumbed to colon cancer after a two-year battle. His mother, Ruth, did her best to support Tyrone and his three sisters. But the McKenzie's struggles would only get worse before they could get better.
Ruth later re-married, but while Tyrone was away at Michigan State, she was seriously injured in a car accident and could not work. McKenzie left Lansing and returned to his home state of Florida, where he worked an 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift at a nearby hotel.
]()He went back to the Midwest, this time to play for Iowa State, but after just one season there, he decided to return home again. McKenzie played the final two seasons of his college career at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.
During a guest spot on Patriots Football Weekly's on-line radio show, PFW In Progress, McKenzie acknowledged that the difficult times he endured helped him mature much quicker than he otherwise might have.
"Exactly. I think going through what I dealt with as a child and into college, with my family, and going from program to program, you know, it really taught me to grow up and be the mature man that I am today. You've got to take the punches as you go. Everything's been a blessing so far. Things happen for a reason."
His defensive coordinator and position coach at USF, Wally Burnham(now in a similar capacity at Iowa State), agreed.
"When I heard he was going to transfer to us, I was kind of skeptical. These kids usually transfer for negative reasons," he recalled. "But when he and his mom came into my office and closed the door and we talked, I knew that minute that this was a sincere kid. We'd get done with practice and he would go to work at night to support his mom.
"You won't find a better person. He's a super guy. Great character and all those things …
He's got it all."
Further proof came from none other than Bill Belichick. When asked to describe his third-round pick in a post-draft press conference, the Patriots head coach offered this response.
"Of all the players that I've talked to and we've interviewed this year and even through the years, Tyrone is amongst the most impressive. Maturity, intelligence, what he's done with the opportunities that he's had or that he's had to overcome, how he's approached them, how he's dealt with them, how he's made the most of them. It hasn't been easy.
"Yet, he's continued to excel, jump over hurdles and overcome obstacles that I think would have derailed a lot of other people and/or football players. I think he's a very impressive, mature, humble young man."
McKenzie seemed to be getting off to a good start with his pro career before he suffered what looked to be a serious knee injury during rookie mini-camp in May. As a result, he'll likely be forced to overcome even more adversity. And once he returns to action, he faces further challenges.
Mostly and outside linebacker in college, McKenzie projects as more of an inside 'backer with New England. McKenzie has certainly proven he has the versatility and adaptability to make the switch.
"I think he's better off inside. It's more of a natural position for him," Burnham observed. "We needed him mostly at outside and he did a nice job there, and he did play inside in our nickel sets. As a player, he's big enough, strong enough, fast enough … maybe a little stiff sometimes, but as coaches, we say that about everyone. I think he just needs to improve his footwork a little at the next level."
McKenzie expressed confidence that he could make the switch to inside linebacker in the pros, in part because, like Jerod Mayo (New England's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and fellow inside linebacker), McKenzie is obsessed with watching game tapes.
"I feel that that's the way you take your game to the next level," he explained. "I've watched tape all through my career, but this past season, my senior year, I spent a little bit more time staying up until midnight watching tape with my defensive coaches, just trying to get a head start.
"At times, I knew exactly what was going to happen on the offensive side. A couple of times, from watching my tape, I got a chance to jump the snap or make a tackle in the backfield because I knew what was going to happen before it happened. Watching tape is huge. You've got to watch your opponent."
Burnham, who has worked with notable NFL linebackers such as Derrick Brooks and Kawika Mitchell, ranks McKenzie with them among the best students of the game he's ever coached.
"He's a fast learner. It won't take him a lot of reps to learn his assignments. That's a big advantage he has a player. He's tough, both physically and mentally. And he's going to ask his position coach a million questions. T-Mac knows how to take hard coaching – a lot of kids don't today. I think he'll be great on special teams, too.
"You're getting a good guy and a great player," Burnham concluded.
"There's not a team I'd rather be drafted by than the Patriots," added McKenzie. "I'm excited to be a Patriot and be up there with those great fans."