McKenzie’s choice: Virginia Tech

December 20, 2013
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Andrew Gregg / For the Observer-Reporter
Wash High senior Shai McKenzie talks to reporters after declaring his decision to attend Virginia Tech over finalists Pitt and Georgia Tech. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Shai McKenzie rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall during a senior season at Wash High that was cut short when the running back tore a ligament in his knee during the Prexies’ third game. Order a Print

Washington High School running back Shai McKenzie will continue his football career by playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it won’t be for Pitt.

McKenzie, the all-time leading rusher in Washington history, announced Friday afternoon he will attend Virginia Tech.

Already with enough credits to graduate high school, McKenzie will enroll at Virginia Tech in January.

McKenzie made the announcement during a news conference at Wash High. He chose Virginia Tech over ACC rivals Pitt and Georgia Tech. McKenzie made an official recruiting visit to Florida State, but the Seminoles were not a finalist.

“Virginia Tech showed a lot of loyalty. They told me a lot of good things are coming for the program,” McKenzie said. “They have always been a good program, though the offense struggled a bit this year.”

The 2012 Observer-Reporter Player of the Year when he rushed for 2,689 yards, scored 41 touchdowns and helped Wash High to the WPIAL Class AA championship game, McKenzie had his senior year cut short this fall when he suffered a torn knee ligament during the Prexies’ third game of the season. At the time, he was on pace for one of the best seasons in WPIAL history, rushing for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns in less than 10 quarters while averaging an amazing 18.1 yards per carry.

He ended his high school career with 4,856 yards, which is 15th on the WPIAL’s all-time rushing list.

Because of the injury, McKenzie won’t be healthy enough to participate in Virginia Tech’s spring practices, but he will receive more extensive rehabilitation in Blacksburg, Va., than if he remained in Washington until the fall semester.

“Without the injury, I don’t think I would enroll early,” McKenzie said. “Now, I can get on campus and get the (offensive) system down.

“It’s really important that I get down there. I can get free rehab, and instead of it being three days a week, I can get treatment six days a week.”

McKenzie said the knee’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule – he will begin jogging Monday – and he expects to be ready for the Hokies’ fall camp.

The announcement ended a whirlwind recruitment for Washington’s most-coveted recruit since Brian Davis in the mid-1980s.

“This is a weight off my shoulders,” McKenzie admitted.

McKenzie, who was recruited by Hokies offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler, took an official visit to Virginia Tech in mid-November. Head coach Frank Beamer made a home visit last week and convinced McKenzie that Blacksburg, Va., and the Hokies’ racious Lane Stadium, were in his future.

“The fans there are really loyal. You’re respected in Blacksburg,” McKenzie said. “The atmosphere there is tremendous for a game: 85,000 fans, loud. Coming from a small school, I’ve wanted to play in front of front of crowds like that.”

McKenzie is ranked the 18th-best running back among 2014 recruits by and 25th at the position by He is rated a four-star recruit by both recruiting services.

McKenzie is one of three running backs recruits for Virginia Tech and the highest rated of the trio. Pitt already has commitments from three running backs, including Chris James of Niles, Ill., who is ranked No. 20 by, and McKenzie said that influenced his decision to choose Virginia Tech.

“I didn’t think the loyalty was there (from Pitt),” he said. “They kept telling me that I’m their guy, I’m their guy, and they sign four other guys in the class.”

Wash High head coach Mike Bosnic played at Pitt, where he was an offensive lineman.

“I would have loved to have seen him at Pitt, but I really felt he needed to do what is in his heart. I support him 100 percent. I think he made a great decision,” said Bosnic, who admitted he wasn’t sure which school McKenzie would choose until he put on a Virginia Tech cap during the news conference.

“The last couple of days, I started to get the feeling that he was leaning toward Virginia Tech, but he didn’t tell anyone what his decision was going to be,” Bosnic said. “He wanted to do it this way.”

Three people who are glad McKenzie’s recruiting saga is over are his parents, Sean McKenzie and Misty Nolder, and his mailman. Sean McKenzie said at one point Shai was getting 150 pieces of mail per day from colleges. It was so overwhelming that he had to get a second mailbox just for the recruiting letters.

“I’m super-relieved this is over. It’s a lot of pressure,” Sean McKenzie said. “I told him to take this one step at a time, relax and pick a school that would make you the happiest even if you weren’t playing football.”

Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for more than 30 years and has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1986. He was named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger in Waynesburg. He is a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you have an idea for a story, send him an email at

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