ASHLAND, Ore. – Cole McKenzie’s football career isn’t exactly a blueprint for how to get to the NFL. From Red Bluff, California, a town of roughly 14,000, McKenzie came to SOU out of high school, then transferred to Butte College in Northern California, only to return to the Raiders before his junior season.
Dodge says, “You could tell he wasn’t really sure about whether he should be here, he should be somewhere else or if he should still be playing football.”
McKenzie showed flashes of his potential in 2011, but still didn’t have the looks of an NFL prospect. In the Raiders first game of the season, McKenzie had nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. It was a sign of things to come.
McKenzie says, “My confidence just started building with how capable I am and the longer we went through the season the more I felt like I couldn’t be stopped.”
Cole would go on to set school records with 1,661 yards and 18 receiving touchdowns, but where did this breakout season come from? A big part of it was Cole’s dedication in the off-season, and realizing his time to make an impact was running out.
McKenzie says, “It was pretty much the end of my junior year, I pretty much just realized that it was my senior year, my last chance to fulfill my dreams and hopefully play in the NFL.”
Howard says, “”It really speaks highly of Cole of what he’s done in the off-season to prepare himself to have the kind of year he had last year and then have that year and then have a shot at the National Football League. You don’t sit in the shade and make that happen.”
That allowed the wide out to tap into potential that was always there.
Chin says, “Location of where he went to high school, you know, you’re going to find some of the Division One guys in his area, the Redding area, but you know it’s not one of those highly populated areas. And so it’s one of those kids that’s that diamond in the rough.”
Fasnacht says, “Here’s a 6’2 guy that can run and catch the football, those guys are all over Division One, so why did he fall through the cracks? It’s not an exact science, this recruiting thing. So we felt all those D1’s missed him and that was good on our behalf. I don’t know why he didn’t go D1, it didn’t make much sense to us.”
It also helped that Craig Howard’s system allows offensive players to put up ridiculous numbers. And if McKenzie is drafted, it’s also going to be a big selling point for the Raiders program.
Howard says, “Sometimes guys think they have to go to the big time to get to the big time. If Cole makes it, that will be big for us in recruiting because guys will realize that can take that same avenue to the NFL.”
Fasnacht says, “Now all those guys that play those skill positions, go, if I’m not going to Cal or Oregon, I’m going to go to Southern Oregon because they put guys in the NFL. So it’s going to change the way recruits view us.”
Everyone in the Raiders’ program will be watching this weekend to see if Cole’s NFL dream comes true.
Fasnacht says, “It’s like a dad, really. You love the kid. He did everything he could for the Raiders and he made us a great football program in a short amount of time and now I just want to see him enjoy the success from all the hard work he put in.”
Dodge says, “Oh my gosh, it’s huge. I mean, especially coming from a small college, you have to work even that much harder. I know there are plenty of people that are going to be sitting there around the TV, watching the draft, looking for his name on TV. ”
McKenzie says, “It comes down to if you really want your dream, it’s there, you just have to continue working hard. Sometimes at a smaller college, you have to work harder than the D1 athletes but if you work hard and have a great mindset, then anything’s possible.”