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MailTribune.com
  • SOU receiver McKenzie signs on with Jaguars

    Jacksonville offers free-agent contract after draft
  • Cole McKenzie picked up the phone and heard magical words.
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  • Cole McKenzie picked up the phone and heard magical words.
    "Are you ready to be a Jaguar?" said the voice on the other end.
    "Yes sir," McKenzie replied.
    McKenzie, Southern Oregon University's record-setting wide receiver, wasn't taken in the latter stages of the NFL draft Saturday, as he'd hoped. But a scant 20 minutes after its completion, he received the call from a scout with the franchise.
    The team offered him a free-agent contract, which McKenzie expected to sign Saturday night. He'll report to rookie camp on Thursday.
    "I'm so excited," said McKenzie, who watched the draft at his family's home in Red Bluff, Calif. "They basically said, we're looking forward to having you, we love small college guys and they always make an impact on our team. They said they want me to come in and compete, and that's what I was always taught to do, so I'm looking forward to it."
    McKenzie had eye-popping statistics with the Raiders last fall, earning NAIA All-American honors after setting program records with 1,661 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
    In a quarterfinal playoff loss to Morningside, he had a whopping 19 catches for 265 yards, good for single-game records.
    But it was his performance in a couple scouting combines that really turned heads.
    It didn't hurt that SOU head coach Craig Howard has ties to Florida and talked several times with Jacksonville staff members. Howard coached high school ball in Florida for eight years before taking the Raiders' job.
    Howard sent the Jaguars film of McKenzie. That, combined with the receiver's gaudy stats and impressive combine numbers "got their attention," said Howard, who got a call from McKenzie and was told of the Jacksonville offer soon after it happened.
    "I'm tickled to death for him," said the coach.
    After the season, the 6-foot-2, 193-pounder went to work with a personal trainer to ready himself for viewing by NFL scouts.
    At a regional combine in Seattle a month ago, McKenzie hit 40 inches in the vertical jump, went 10 feet, 4 inches in the broad jump and was clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The numbers matched up favorably with some of the top receiver talent in the seven-round draft.
    Times of 4.4 in the 40 are hard to find, said Howard, especially from players of McKenzie's size.
    McKenzie had extensive interest from Jacksonville, Green Bay and Tampa Bay throughout the pre-draft process, and San Francisco and the New York Jets also made contact.
    He received a text message from the Jaguars Saturday morning wishing him luck.
    As the draft wound down, McKenzie's agent, Marlon Sullivan of SportsWest Football, assured him free agency was guaranteed.
    Jacksonville's receiving corps is relatively nondescript. It's led by Justin Blackmon, a rookie last year.
    "I think it's a perfect team for him to go to," said Howard, noting that not many rookies are going to make a squad such as the NFC champion 49ers. "The Jaguars are looking at competition at all positions and they're hungry for players. He'll get a good shot there, and he'll be ready. It's a neat deal."
    Howard said McKenzie needs to show "great confidence" when he goes to Jacksonville and not be starry-eyed.
    McKenzie agreed with that notion.
    "I know it's a job now," he said. "Being in the NFL is a job. I'll continue to be Cole McKenzie and not be intimidated by anyone and trust my skills."
    Jacksonville used two draft picks on receivers. The Jaguars selected South Carolina's Ace Sanders in the fourth round and Michigan's Denard Robinson — who played quarterback for the Wolverines — as a receiver in the fifth round.
    Another of the Jaguars' free-agent pickups is Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Like McKenzie, both Rodgers started their college careers at Butte College in Oroville, Calif.
    McKenzie will try to become only the third SOU football player to appear in a regular season NFL contest and the first since 2005, when wide receiver Andrae Thurman did so with Green Bay and Tennessee. The other was running back Dusty McGrorty, who played for St. Louis in 2004.
    "It's like a dream coming true," said McKenzie. "It's still not where I want the dream to be yet, but it's a great opportunity and I'm truly blessed for the position I'm in."
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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