Wash High’s McKenzie has unusual blend of talent

Washington’s McKenzie finds unique blend of talent

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This is not a story about Shai McKenzie’s football career or his recruitment.


No, seriously.


As NCAA Division I football coaches from across the country descend on Washington High School to court the Prexies’ stud running back, coaches from another sport might want to consider making the trip: those in charge of their schools’ track and field teams.


McKenzie, who has 30 Division I offers for football, has become more than a casual participant in track and field, more than the typical running back who takes up the sport to stay in shape and shave a couple tenths off of his 40-yard dash time.


More, apparently, than even the typical track athlete.


McKenzie’s rare combination of power and speed, blended together with some actual technique work, has created the possibility that he could win at least two WPIAL Class AA gold medals, perhaps more.


Those two events? The 100-meter dash … and the shot put.


“He has the strength and power,” said Wash High sprints coach Richie Barnes, who has coached high school track for 13 years. “I’ve never seen that combination where the sprinter throws the shot put. First time I’ve come across one of those.”


McKenzie’s top 100-meter dash time this season has been 10.6 seconds, recorded during a dual meet Tuesday against West Greene.


But after competing in the event, McKenzie will often forgo any sort of rest and start throwing the shot.


“It’s tough to reach my maximum potential because after running the 100, I have to jog over to the shot put, hurry up and get my throws in,” McKenzie said. “I’m already exhausted, so I’m usually going off of adrenaline.”


Which, surprisingly enough, has worked out well. After starting the year with only power throws – no gliding, basically standing and chucking it – McKenzie has improved his distance from 46 feet, 5 inches to 51-11 1/2, which he attained Thursday, only a few days after throwing 47-11 against West Greene.


Said simply: McKenzie’s ascent as a thrower has been swift and sharp.


“For him, it was the idea that you don’t have to muscle the shot because he’s naturally a strong kid. You need explosion,” said Prexies throwing coach Chet Henderson. “Once he gets everything down as far as his glide and refining what he’s doing, there’s nothing stopping him from throwing 55 feet.”


Wash High has adjusted its meets, often holding the girls shot put before the boys event to give McKenzie a little more time. But at the WPIAL meet, which McKenzie will compete in, there’s no telling how the timing might work. Ditto for today’s Washington-Greene County Coaches Meet.


Laurel’s Kaleb Kingston won the WPIAL Class AA shot put title last spring with a throw of 54-10 1/4, Clairton’s Trenton Coles the 100 in 10.94, but taking home a gold medal, at least in a field event, isn’t on McKenzie’s radar, believe it or not.


“Like I told my teammates, I just like to throw the shot put to get us more points,” said McKenzie, who won four events and was named MVP at the Monessen Invitational April 13. “I usually place first, so I pick up some points. But I really don’t care so much about the shot put as I do running events.”


Barnes won’t argue with that. At the beginning of the season, Barnes noticed McKenzie’s form was lacking. His hands were clenched. On his starts, he kept his head down too long.


Barnes coached, McKenzie listened, and the results has been smack-you-over-the-head obvious.


He’s routinely running the 200 in the mid-22s, in addition to helping Wash High’s 400 relay team. To make those football recruiters happy, McKenzie has clocked a 4.32 in the 40, Barnes said.


“He comes out of the blocks with power,” Barnes said. “He’s coming out real well this year.”


Not bad for someone who, after listening to him talk, sounds like a ninth-grader trying to get more familiar with the sport.


“I do enjoy track,” McKenzie said. “But track is not the main source of motivation in my life. I just run track to try and maintain, get faster, get my body going for football. Just stay in good condition. I’m not trying to win states or anything. Basically, just trying to get better.”


That, few will argue, has happened.


And not necessarily in the areas that many expected.


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