Cole McKenzie just wants a shot.
If everything falls into place in the coming days, he may get one — in the NFL.
The former Southern Oregon University wide receiver who had a record-breaking senior season in 2012 will be watching the NFL Draft — it begins today at Radio City Music Hall in New York City — with keen interest this week after turning heads at a pair of combines.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, McKenzie set SOU records for receiving yards (1,661) and touchdowns (18) in 2012 in helping the Raiders reach the NAIA quarterfinals for the third time in team history. As good as those numbers were, McKenzie knew he needed to do a lot more in order to garner the interest of NFL scouts. So starting in February, the Red Bluff, Calif., native began working with trainer Jayson Tonkin at Athletic Edge, a training facility in Medford.
Six days a week, one-and-a-half to two hours a day, Tonkin has pushed McKenzie to the limit with a regimen designed specifically to improve his lateral movement and explosiveness on the football field. The hard work paid off on March 23 at the Seattle Regional Combine, where McKenzie hit 40 inches on the vertical jump, leaped 10-feet, 4-inches in the broad jump and was clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. By comparison, the top-rated receiver according to ESPN's DraftTracker, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, has a 32-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot broad jump.
"That's the best thing about going to the combines," McKenzie said, "you get to go up against D1 and D2 athletes and you get to judge yourself against them. You can't be intimidated by anyone, you just have to believe in yourself and the skills you have, and everything will work itself out."
McKenzie's performance at Seattle earned him an invitation to the NFL Super Regional Combine, April 7-9 at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas where 219 prospects auditioned in front of a cadre of NFL scouts. There, McKenzie put up similar numbers. The scouts noticed. McKenzie says he has since received interest from six NFL teams, four that he's talked to himself and two more that have contacted his agent, Marlon Sullivan of SportsWest Football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Jacksonville Jaguars have reached out to McKenzie. The Jaguars appear to have the most interest. A receivers scout for the Jags contacted McKenzie three days ago to let him know that they may take him in the sixth or seventh round Saturday.
Where will McKenzie watch the draft? At home, of course, in Red Bluff, surrounded by those who have watched him excel since his days at Red Bluff High School.
"I'm going back home to be with family," he said. "I'm going to be with them for this exciting event and just keep in touch with everyone from Southern (Oregon).
"Either way, if I get drafted or I sign as a free agent it's going to be an exciting time. I'm excited to get the phone calls, talk with my agent throughout the day. There's going to be a lot of different emotions. It's going to be an exciting day to say the least."
The draft begins today with the first round, which will be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network. The second and third rounds will be held on Friday on ESPN, ESPN2 (after 7 p.m.) and NFL Network, and the fourth through seventh rounds will take place Saturday on ESPN, ESPN2 (after 6 p.m.) and the NFL Network.
If McKenzie isn't selected, it won't be because he's a slacker on the practice field, says SOU head coach Craig Howard. Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars have contacted Howard wanting to know about McKenzie's work ethic and character. Howard said the star wide receiver and All-American has earned every accolade he's received.
"He's worked so hard to get to the level of an NFL player," Howard said. "He's really pushed his body and has gotten so much faster. He's got a great frame, and was at his best when his best was needed. He has great leadership, so he's got the intangibles as well as the physical ability."
Howard pointed out that McKenzie had 19 catches for 265 yards in SOU's quarterfinal loss at Morningside.
"Rather than wilting under the pressure of competition, he flourished," Howard said.
If McKenzie's name is called on Saturday, or earlier, he would become the fourth former Raider to be drafted. The first three, however, were picked when the NFL Draft featured more rounds. Kicker Greg Enright was taken in the 15th round in 1975, Jeff Beathard was picked in the 12th round in 1988 and linebacker Any Katoa went in the ninth round in 1991.
Two former Raiders have played — however briefly — in the NFL: running back Dusty McGrorty got in a game as a member of the St. Louis Rams in 2004, the same year receiver Andrae Thurman caught a pair of passes from Brett Favre as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Thurman appeared in 15 games with Green Bay and Tennessee the following season.
McKenzie would love to become the third Raider to play in the NFL, and he doesn't care where.
"At this point, just wherever I can get on the field and have the best chance to play on Sundays," said McKenzie, when asked which team he would most like to play for. "Whichever team fits me best, needs help in the receiving corps. As long as I get the best opportunity to make an impact for that team."