ASHLAND, Ore. – Nearly every kid growing up playing football has a dream of playing in the NFL, but for most kids, that’s all it is, a dream. Former Southern Oregon wide receiver Cole McKenzie remembers the time he knew his dream could become a reality.
“After the Seattle combine, I actually got a voicemail from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” said McKenzie. “Just hearing that was like, whoa, an NFL team just called me?”
After a 1,600 yard, 18 touchdown senior season, McKenzie started to seriously think about a professional football career. In early February, McKenzie began working with Jayson Tonkin at athletic edge in Medford.
“These guys come to you with such athletic ability,” said Tonkin. “A lot of times there are things missing that we can complement. We got rid of a lot of bad movement patterns that actually hurt or hinder him when he tries to perform.”
Mckenzie spent two to three hours in the gym per day.
“I come in to training with the mentality that this is now a professional business so you have to take it every day as if you’re fighting for a job,” said McKenzie.
His workouts were specifically designed to impress NFL scouts. In late March, McKenzie went up to Seattle for a regional combine, an opportunity for players from smaller schools to be seen by NFL teams, and those teams noticed McKenzie. He blew away the competition, running a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, measured 40 inches on his vertical leap, and went 10’4 in the broad jump. Compare those numbers to what some of the top prospects put up at the main NFL combine in February, and McKenzie measures up well. His broad jump would have been ninth among wide receivers, his 40 time would have been sixth, and his 40 inch vertical would have been the best as any player at his position.
“After the Seattle combine, seeing all my results from it, it was a little bit emotional in a way, because all my hard work’s paid off since I came here in training,” said McKenzie.
“Coming out of a small college, you’ve got to do all the things right and when you get to those combines, you gotta shine,” said Southern Oregon head coach Craig Howard.
“He really got himself recognized and from then on, I don’t think his phone stops now,” said wide receivers’ coach Nate Chin. “It was huge that he got seen.”
The New York Jets, Tampa Bay Bucs and Jacksonville Jaguars have shown interest in McKenzie, looking to see if this kid from SOU in Ashland, Oregon has what it takes to play on Sundays.
“Can he translate his game to playing against tougher competition, and not physically, just mentally,” said offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht, “will he adjust, yeah he played at a small school, will I be overwhelmed by seeing these all-pros or is he going to go there and fit right in and that’s not a problem with him at all.”
McKenzie may never be able to completely silence those who doubt whether a kid from an NAIA school has what it takes to be an NFL player, but it’s because of his hard work, and great performance at the combine, that it’s even a discussion.
“It’s a great feeling, but nothing’s set in stone yet so I keep pushing myself each day to have one of those teams want to have me,” said McKenzie.
“To have someone be able to do that and show people that they can change so much in such a little time, it’d be really cool,” said Tonkin. “And it just shows that when you do things correctly, things can really change.”