KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kahlil McKenzie still has his infectious smile, but pretty much everything else has changed about Tennessee’s mammoth defensive tackle in advance of his sophomore season.
For starters, McKenzie is wearing 99 now. Number 1 just didn’t fit him quite right.
It certainly doesn’t fit him how.
McKenzie remains a huge human being, but the former 5-star recruit dropped over 30 pounds this offseason by cutting out Big Mac’s.
“If you put McDonald’s in your body, you’re going to preform like McDonald’s,” McKenzie said Tuesday.
McKenzie arrived at Tennessee with oversized pants and expectations, but the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect in the 2015 class struggled with weight and conditioning issues throughout his freshman year. He recorded just 12 solo tackles and only one sack.
But if early returns from training camp are any indications, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound tackle should blow those numbers out of the water this fall.
Looking svelte Tuesday, McKenzie explained that his weigh loss was mostly a mental challenge. Other than cutting out fast-food, he didn’t really change a whole lot. Down from 345-plus to 315 pounds, he mostly had to “condition his mind right.”
“You got to just know what to eat, how to train, things like that,” McKenzie said while rocking some fresh orange glasses.
“Really, conditioning your mind to be able to take that next step, be able to say, ‘No to McDonald’s’ when you know that it’s an easy meal.”
Teammates, coaches and trainers have all held McKenzie accountable this offseason, and the hard worked paid off. McKenzie made it a goal to weigh 315 pounds before training camp, but he even was stunned by the scale just one week ago.
“I was surprised. It was kind of a shock to be honest,” he said, weighing 315 pounds for the first time since his junior season of high school.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen. It was a great feeling getting back down to that weight. You just feel a lot better. You can move a lot better. You’re not winded as easily.”
McKenzie has impressed teammates with his transformation, too, as star defensive end Derek Barnett said last week, “(McKenzie) looks good. His first step is better, and he (has) violent hands still. He just looks like a better ball player right now.”
At 315 pounds, McKenzie was clocked at 16.3 mph in a recent TenneSpeed test, as his newfound diet has transformed his body — and game.
“I’m not dying by like the half-way point of practice (anymore),” he said, chuckling.
“It’s being able to perform at a high level at practice. That’s really what helped me. I am able to go full-speed the whole practice. … I’m just being smarter with how I live my life.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com