Shai McKenzie, the record-breaking running back at Washington High School and a national recruit, will miss the remainder of the football season because of a torn knee ligament.
McKenzie, a senior who led the WPIAL in rushing last year and set the Washington career yardage record Sept. 6, underwent an MRI Monday morning that revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The injury requires reconstructive surgery.
“He’s in good spirits,” Washington coach Mike Bosnic said. “It’s upsetting, but like I told him, he’s done a lot of good things and created a lot of good moments, not only for himself but for the team and the community. We were trying to be positive and hoping for the best.”
McKenzie wrote on his Twitter account Monday morning, “Torn ACL very sad to say my High School career is over but I will have better days in the future I promise.”
The 6-0, 220-pound McKenzie injured the knee Friday night during Wash High’s 66-10 victory over Charleroi at Cougar Stadium. McKenzie made a cut during a running play in the first half and fell to the turf without being tackled by a Charleroi player. McKenzie said he felt a pop in the knee. He left the game and did not return.
McKenzie scored on runs of 64 and 90 yards on the Prexies’ first two offensive plays and had accumulated 198 yards and three touchdowns before suffering the season-ending injury.
In three games this season, McKenzie rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 36 carries, a whopping 18.1 yards per carry.
Last year, McKenzie rushed for 2,689 yards and 41 touchdowns – an average of 37.4 yards per scoring run – and helped the Prexies advance to the WPIAL Class AA championship game.
McKenzie rushed for 4,856 yards in his high school career, which has ended too soon.
“We’re moving on without Shai, but it’s happening a lot sooner than expected,” Bosnic said prior to the Prexies’ practice Monday afternoon. “He’s going to be missed. We’re fortunate that we’ve had one of the greatest running backs ever around here. His type of talent comes around only once in a lifetime. We weren’t ready to lose him this soon. Shai was devastated and shocked when he was told the ACL was torn, and I’m sure he’s still trying to accept it.”
Bosnic said his cellphone has been busy since Friday night, when word of McKenzie’s injury hit on social media formats.
“I fielded calls until 1:30 a.m. that night from the media, community members and college coaches,” Bosnic said. “A lot of people were upset. I was up all night. This has been the talk of the town. It’s a big to-do.”
Bosnic did point out, and McKenzie noted on his Twitter account, that none of the running back’s scholarship offers have been pulled because of the injury. McKenzie has received about 30 offers from major college programs across the country. He recently trimmed the list of potential suitors to five: Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
McKenzie has indicated he will not rush a commitment and might wait until National Signing Day Feb. 5, 2014. He is rated the 17th-best senior running back in the country by Scout.com.
Though losing McKenzie is a body blow to the Prexies, Bosnic is confident his team will show resiliency. Washington (3-0, 3-0) hosts Yough (2-1, 2-1) in a key Class AA Interstate Conference game Friday night and plays at undefeated Jeannette (3-0, 3-0) Sept. 26.
Wash High might use a backfield by committee to replace McKenzie. Junior Malik Wells is the team’s second-leading rusher with 151 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries. Sophomore Kurt Adkins has rushed for 117 yards. Bosnic also could move seniors Chase Caldwell and Quorteze Levy – both talented runners – to tailback or go with sophomore Jordon West.
“The kids feel badly about this,” Bosnic said. “Wash High football has a great tradition and a lot of pride. We’re not about one individual. We’ve always had a great program here because we’re more than one individual. We do know that, for the rest of the season, Shai won’t play. His Wash High days are over, but he has a great future ahead of him. I’m sure that he’ll come back stronger and better.”
McKenzie declined to be interviewed. He did say the surgery is set for Friday.