INDIANAPOLIS – The defensive prospects began meeting with the media over the weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Here are a handful of items from the first round of sessions.
1. Kahlil McKenzie essentially grew up at Lambeau: As soon as McKenzie was old enough to make the 10-minute walk from his family home to Lambeau Field, there wasn’t a gameday program or stat sheet that was safe inside his dad’s office.
The son of current Raiders general manager and former Packers personnel executive Reggie McKenzie, Kahlil had an insatiable desire to learn everything there was to know about the NFL.
“I’m memorizing guys’ heights, weights and what they run the 40, their hand size, wing span, all that type of stuff,” said McKenzie, the first Green Bay area native to attend the NFL Scouting Combine since Ashwaubenon’s Mike Taylor in 2013.
“We’d always sit there talking about this guy, that guy. When I was in high school and he got the GM job, I’m predicting who he might draft. That’s a little game we like to play in the family.”
Born and raised in Green Bay through age 15, Kahlil spent his formative years constantly around Packers’ training-camp practices and was stage right when quarterback Aaron Rodgers raised the Lombardi Trophy after Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV in February 2011.
As a player, McKenzie assisted Southwest High School during two deep runs in the WIAA state playoffs and helped the program capture its first conference championship in 37 years during his sophomore year.
McKenzie moved to California after his dad was hired by the Raiders in 2012 and became a five-star recruit at Clayton Valley Charter School, eventually committing to play at his father’s alma mater, Tennessee.
One of the reasons McKenzie chose to play for the Vols is because his grandfather, Sam Jr., had never seen him play. He achieved that goal prior to Sam Jr.’s passing last July.
A defensive lineman, McKenzie recorded 72 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in Knoxville before declaring as a true junior. Only 21, McKenzie’s one of the youngest entrants in this year’s draft.
When Kahlil made the decision to turn pro, his father gave him only one small piece of advice: “He just said work hard, be humble through the whole process and make sure everything is at 100 percent.”
For years, McKenzie spent time around the likes of Khalil Mack in Oakland, and Donald Driver, James Lofton and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila with the Packers. Now, he feels ready to take his game to the level of the players he grew up idolizing.
While the McKenzie name carries a lot of water in NFL circles, Kahlil only asks teams look at him for the player he is and not the name on the back of the jersey.
“That’s how it is, because at the end of the day, that’s what you are,” said McKenzie, whose young brother, Jalen, is now a freshman tackle at USC. “I’m a defensive tackle who plays football. That’s it. I’m Kahlil McKenzie, that’s what they’re getting. They’re not getting my dad. They’re getting me.”
After his father, Clarence, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, Matt Dickerson made the difficult choice to de-commit from Notre Dame and remain close to his home in San Mateo, Calif. 2. Matt Dickerson’s tough decision worked out:
Looking for an in-state option, the four-star recruit traveled six hours south to Los Angeles to take an official visit at UCLA.
That’s when Dickerson was introduced to Kenny Clark.
“That’s my guy,” said Dickerson of the former Bruin and current Packers defensive tackle. “He recruited me to UCLA, him and Eddie Vanderdose, who’s on the Raiders. I took my official (visit) there and that was the time of my life. Those two guys were really the ones who made me want to go to UCLA.”
The doctors caught Clarence’s cancer in the early stages and he remains in remission today. In staying close to home, Dickerson’s parents were able to attend every home game.
3. Shaquem Griffin continues to beat the odds: Griffin never had performed more than 11 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. In fact, going into Saturday at the combine, he modestly aimed for six.
He wound up with 20.
“I think I beat that by a lot,” quipped Griffin afterward.
Making the feat even more impressive is the fact the Central Florida linebacker has only one hand. Born with amniotic band syndrome, Griffin had his left hand amputated when he was four years old.
However, Griffin hasn’t let that stop him from thriving on the football field. In four college seasons, Griffin recorded 163 tackles with 17 sacks in 38 career games.
“I know what I can do, and the one thing I can do is to go out there and make sure I do it,” said Griffin when asked if he’s amazed at the success he’s enjoyed. “A lot of people see somebody who has one hand instead of two, and they think it's different or it doesn't make sense. ‘Oh, he has one hand-how can you play football?’ Well, what if I say, ‘You have two hands, can you play football?’
“At the end of the day, you have to show what you can do. You can't set limits on what you can do, whether you have two hands or 30 hands. Show me what you can do, and we'll go from there. Don't set limits for me, because when I wake up in the morning and I brush my teeth and I look at myself in the mirror, it’s only me that I see in the mirror. I'm not going to see anybody else in the mirror. That's how I live, day by day. When I look in the mirror, it's up to me to accomplish everything I want out of life.”
4. Sam Hubbard apparently can dodge a wrench: Today, Hubbard is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound edge-rusher who very well could be a first-round pick in a little less than two months.
A few years ago, however, Hubbard was planning to play lacrosse in college when Ohio State football coach happened upon a dodgeball game at Archbishop Moeller High School.
“My high school (football) coach was my gym teacher and college coaches would come in to see him,” Hubbard recalled. “We were in a dodgeball class in gym one day and it happened to be the day that Coach Meyer was visiting our school to see some recruits. He walked in and I was playing dodgeball and I guess he noticed me and got introduced and the rest is history.”
5. Hercules almost didn’t get his name: The name was going to be either Hercules or Anthony. At least, that was the debate in Sophie Mata’afa’s mind before her son was born weighing nearly 10 pounds.
Hercules, it is.
“I was the biggest baby in my family,” said Mata’afa, now a 6-foot-1, 250-pound defensive tackle out of Washington State. “So it was between Anthony and Hercules, and she chose Hercules. I’m glad she chose that, too.”