McKenzie's journey to NFL an inspiration

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
8:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Much has been made of the inspirational story of Michael Oher, the Ole Miss tackle who was the subject of Michael Lewis' compelling book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game."

South Florida linebacker Tyrone McKenzie has a tale that rivals it.

The New England Patriots drafted McKenzie in the third round, a moment that must have been emotional for him.

He was nine when colon cancer claimed his father's life. McKenzie became a two-way prep star with NFL dreams, but there were more obstacles. He attended three colleges and worked the overnight shift at a Hampton Inn to support his injured mother.

"That really helped me be a man and it let me really realize that it can be here today and gone tomorrow," McKenzie said on a conference call with Patriots reporters. "At the same time, I don't want to go back to working at a Hampton Inn."

McKenzie originally committed to Iowa State, but changed his mind and went to Michigan State. He played 11 games his freshman year, but regret led him to transfer to Iowa State. He sat out a year and broke out with a monster season, averaging 10.75 tackles a game.

But his mother was involved in a bad car accident. She required multiple surgeries to her wrists and ankles. She lost her home daycare business. With an NCAA hardship waiver, he transferred to South Florida to be close to her.

He worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the Hampton Inn to help her pay the bills.

"I was working the front desk," McKenzie said. "Being that late, it was just kind of boring, and you get kind of tired from a shift there working at the desk. I was hoping every hour and a half for someone to check in at night."

McKenzie led USF in tackles his two seasons there. He recorded 14.5 tackles for losses last year as an outside linebacker. The Patriots project him as an inside linebacker in the NFL.

As impressive as he looked against Big East competition, his personal background played a significant role in the Patriots drafting him.

"I would just say of all the players that I've talked to and we've interviewed this year and even through the years, that Tyrone is amongst the most impressive," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Maturity, intelligence, what he's done with the opportunities that he's had or that he's had to overcome, how he's approached them, how he's dealt with them, how he's made the most of them ...

"It hasn't been easy, yet he's continued to excel, jump over hurdles and overcome obstacles that I think would have derailed a lot of other people and/or football players. I think he's a very impressive, mature, humble young man."

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