KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kahlil McKenzie dropped the weight, but now Tennessee wants the promising sophomore defensive tackle to lower his pads.
After changing his offseason dietary habits — who could forget his great quote, “If you put McDonald’s in your body, you’re going to perform like McDonald’s.” — the former No. 3 overall recruit lost over 50 pounds in the last year.
Down to around 305 now, the svelte sophomore feels “more explosive” and doesn’t “get winded as easily.” Coach Butch Jones raved about McKenzie’s transformation, saying, “Night and day how far he’s come.
“His body has completely changed. He’s invested in his body. He’s able to finish plays more. His football stamina has increased, his strength has increased.”
Still, McKenzie remains a backup because of the work he still needs to do, especially lowering his pad level.
During a frustrating freshman season, McKenzie recorded just 12 solo tackles and a single sack in 13 games. After missing his senior year of high school due to a transfer issue, McKenzie struggled with the transition to college football.
“He’s a 17-year-old kid playing in a dominating 19-to-22-year-old football conference that’s a line of scrimmage league,” Jones said.
McKenzie possesses the potential to be terrorizing talent at tackle. He’s nimble for his size, strong as an ox and is a very intelligent player.
“I’ve said this before, he’s a better athlete than I initially thought that he was,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said.
But the next step in McKenzie’s overhaul is improving his technique and down-to-down consistency. He’s raw, and his strength is useless without proper pad level.
“We challenged him to lose his weight and he did, but now he needs to be more consistent, keep his pad level down,” Shoop explained.
“It’s not like high school where you’re just the biggest guy. Now the guys are all his size.
“I think he needs to keep his pad level down and play with more leverage and really be more consistent at the point of attack to be the player that we expect him to be.”
McKenzie totally understands the expectations, and while he’s proud of his weight loss, he’s focusing solely on football now.
“Staying low, it’s a daily challenge,” he said.
“That’s the last step for me. Working on pad level every play. It’s just being consistent with it. That’s what I have to work on the most.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com