Kahlil McKenzie walked onto the practice field last fall like a football supermodel. As far as defensive tackles are concerned, he was a prima donna.
After Tennessee’s first practice of fall camp, social media was flooded with comments about his enormous legs, particularly his thighs. A Twitter account known as “McKenzie’s Thighs” even popped up.
At the time, no one thought that McKenzie might be too big, even though he was listed at nearly 350 pounds and hadn’t played football in a year because of a transfer rule when he was in high school that ruled him ineligible for 2014. McKenzie’s size wasn’t viewed as abnormal because he was from a football family and was one of the highest-rated defensive linemen in the 2015 class.
However, in retrospect, there’s reason to believe that McKenzie could have been in better shape, and his second season at Tennessee could be far better than his first thanks to a more toned physique.
“The winter program helps,” McKenzie said. “You start to get more defined and things like that. Less baby fat and things like that. Being able to go through the winter program and the season, it definitely helps.”
McKenzie doesn’t know, or at least won’t reveal, what he weighs currently. However, he certainly looks a bit more trim.
“It’s a lot better than what it used to be,” he said. “My body feels better. Being able to move a lot better and get through practice. That’s one of my goals this spring, is to get my weight down and move better.”
There was no way McKenzie’s freshman season could have lived up to the hype last season. He was a five-star prospect who had a father and uncle who starred for the Vols. All eyes were on the man who was supposed to be the anchor of Tennessee’s defense, even if he was just a freshman. McKenzie finished the season with 24 tackles and just one sack.
“It was alright,” McKenzie said of his first year at Tennessee. “Definitely a lot of things to improve on from my freshman year, but I think it was a good place to start. There are places I can improve on and places I did well. I’m looking forward to this year.”
McKenzie is ready to move forward. Whether he likes it or not, that means being a leader, even as a sophomore. That’s a trait he thinks all Vols should strive for.
“Everyone is working to be a leader on this team,” McKenzie said. “Everyone is going to be getting on everybody. Everyone is trying to hold everyone accountable.”
With the injuries Tennessee has suffered on the defensive line — particularly Shy Tuttle — McKenzie will receive more than his usual share of spring practice snaps. That’s fine. It’s an opportunity to get in better shape and be more disruptive against the pass, which he said is a major goal.
However, just sacking the quarterback isn’t McKenzie’s primary objective. There is something much greater at stake.
“Just help my team in whatever way I can and win the national championship,” McKenzie said. “That’s all of our goals … We all just want to win the national championship so we’re just going to do whatever it takes to do that.”