5 Reasons Kahlil McKenzie Will Sign with the Tennessee Volunteers
With needs all over the field for the Tennessee Volunteers, perhaps none is bigger in this recruiting cycle than securing an impact defensive tackle. Concord, Calif., 5-star Kahlil McKenzie certainly fits the bill.
It just so happens that ties run deep between the 6'4", 309-pound McKenzie and the Vols.
The great quarterback debate can rage on—and there's no minimizing UT's need for at least one commit this year—but coach Butch Jones has to restock the offensive and defensive trenches to turn Tennessee's fate.
After a recent camp swing in which McKenzie surged all the way up to 247Sports' No. 10-ranked overall player in the 2015 class, it's evident why UT is so high on him.
He also is feeling the Vols right now, as evidenced by 97 percent of his Crystal Ball projections aimed toward UT. News broke Tuesday night on Twitter that McKenzie would be choosing between UT and Arizona on July 10 at The Opening.
He listed the Vols as his leader when he released his top 12 in late May, so things are looking good for UT. Here are five reasons why McKenzie will anchor UT's 2015 recruiting class, based off comments he has made throughout the recruiting process.
5. He Believes UT Is on the Upswing
When success in a program has been fleeting for much of the past decade, new coaches have to sell the future. And they've got to find star players who'll buy it.
Of course, both delivered.
Butch Jones is attempting to do the same thing. UT's 2014 class was full of players who bought into that belief that they could be the foundation of Butch's "Brick-by-Brick" campaign.
Kahlil McKenzie's comments suggest he believes, too, and wants to be a trailblazer for putting UT back on the map. He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required):
There’s a will to win there. You feel like it's like a calm before a storm, I guess. They're bringing in guys that want to win. They're bringing in good guys. The coaching staff is great. The fans are really behind the team, and they haven't been winning in a while. It feels like a good place to go if you really want to just start up something and really get going and see how far you can take it.
Comments like that suggest it's a matter of time before McKenzie becomes part of what Jones is trying to build.
4. Tennessee Has Made Him a Priority
Long before his Nike Football Training Camp performance that helped Kahlil McKenzie earn 5-star status, Tennessee was knocking down his door with interest.
247Sports national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons noted (subscription required) of McKenzie's dominating May showing in Oakland: "There hasn’t been more of a no-doubt 5-star performance this offseason than the one that Kahlil McKenzie put together…"
Performances like that one earned McKenzie recent offers from some of the nation's top programs and cemented his status on the national radar, but UT extended its offer to him way back on Nov. 29, 2013.
Tennessee's was the seventh offer listed on his 247Sports timeline, a relatively early trigger pull.
The Vols have turned up the heat since that time with visits, calls, getting him on campus for an unofficial visit and ultimately naming UT as the team in the driver's seat for his commitment.
No question Butch Jones will continue to prioritize McKenzie along with a defensive line class that is shaping up to be potentially huge for the Vols.
With guys like Tim Settle, Kyle Phillips, D.J. Jones and Ricky DeBerry high on UT, it could be a big year. Getting McKenzie on board would be the biggest coup of all.
3. He Already Has Hit It off with Coaches, Players ... and Even Fans
It isn't easy to make a place thousands of miles away feel like home to a recruit. But Kahlil McKenzie—who grew up in Wisconsin and resides currently in California—was made to feel that way on his trip to Knoxville.
Not only did he hit it off with Butch Jones and defensive line coach Steve Stripling, he had a special message from Vols fans, courtesy of one of college football's most unique recruiting tools.
On "The Rock", a huge boulder that sits on UT's campus that is regularly painted by students, was the message, "Welcome Home Kahlil." He was so impressed, he tweeted out a pic.
McKenzie told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) of UT:
I mean, everything about them, I love. I love the coaching staff. I love some of the guys that they’re bringing in, some of the guys that might go there, some of the guys that have already committed. They've got a really good group of guys there. The fans, like I've said before, they're the best. They really have the full package. I mean, I have my family there and all that kind of stuff.
McKenzie regularly talks about the Vols on Twitter and mentions Jones in nearly every interview. UT still sends him customized mail often, like this item McKenzie tweeted to his followers Tuesday.
Four-star offensive tackle commit Jack Jones recently told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview that he's building a strong relationship with McKenzie.
It's those kind of bonds that secure signatures, and given that McKenzie is from a family that knows football (his father, Reggie, is the Oakland Raiders' general manager), Stripling's 30-year resume won't hurt, either.
2. Tennessee Has a Massive Need for True Defensive Tackles
Tennessee had swung and missed in defensive tackle recruiting for years—until the 2013 recruiting cycle, when it landed Michael Sawyers and Owen Williams.
But those are really the only two bona fide true defensive tackles in the class. Charles Mosley and Jashon Robertson could play on the defensive interior, or they could project on the offensive line.
Derek Barnett was listed by recruiting services as a defensive end, but he probably will grow into a tackle. Dimarya Mixon was a "tweener" as well who found a home at tackle this spring.
But the Vols need a truly elite defensive tackle or two who are no-doubt contributors from day one. Kahlil McKenzie is that kind of talent, as is 5-star Tim Settle, who is also very high on the Vols. They need a big-framed mauler who has the size and athleticism to make an impact early.
At 6'4", 309 pounds, McKenzie has the size, and he has all the intangibles that make him an elite prospect. Getting him to commit would be a cornerstone to Butch Jones' rebuilding process.
McKenzie knows how important he is to UT's turnaround, and he will almost assuredly surge into the two-deep if the Vols can get him signed and on campus.
1. Family Ties Run Deep
Kahlil McKenzie has orange blood flowing through his veins.
His father Reggie played at Austin-East High School in Knoxville and was a linebacker for the Vols in the early 1980s before being drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders. His uncle Raleigh was a star offensive lineman for UT who enjoyed a long career in the NFL.
Reggie McKenzie later was an assistant under coach Phillip Fulmer in 1993. Kahlil's godfather is UT and NFL legend Reggie White.
McKenzie still has family who live all over the state, and as many ties as he has with UT, it's difficult to see him choosing Arizona.
Also, there's the fact that every single legacy commitment that Butch Jones has aggressively pursued, he has gotten to commit to UT. That list includes Dillon Bates, Todd Kelly Jr., Evan and Elliott Berry, Neiko Creamer, Vic Wharton and Cecil Cherry.
Outside linebacker Keaton Anderson—a UT legacy with a Vols offer—committed to Alabama last week, but GoVols247's Ryan Callahan said (subscription required), "I would say Tennessee was actively recruiting him, but not necessarily making him a high priority."
There's no question UT has McKenzie at the top of its priority list. The Vols will have to wait until July 10 to find out if all that extra attention will pay off in a commitment.
Everything is leaning toward McKenzie being the biggest pledge in UT's 2015 recruiting class.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports.
Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: