Washington running back Shai McKenzie spurns Pitt for Virginia Tech

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There was much on Shai McKenzie's mind as he prepared to make one of the most important decisions of his young life.

There were academics, campus and the overall level of comfort at a college. There also was his knee injury, the one that prematurely ended his senior season at Washington High School.

And there was family, which, in McKenzie's case, is separated by roughly 700 miles, with his father in Western Pennsylvania and his mother in Georgia.

Days before he was scheduled to announce his choice, those variables all came together to point the standout running back in one direction -- to Blacksburg, Va.

McKenzie committed Friday to play college football at Virginia Tech, selecting the Hokies over his two other finalists, Pitt and Georgia Tech.

"It was a really difficult decision," McKenzie said. "It was, 'Do I want to be away from my mom? Do I want to be away from my dad or in between?'

"I'm a family guy, so I felt like equal distance would be better. I was very comfortable with Virginia Tech."

Rated as a four-star prospect by most major recruiting services, McKenzie missed most of his senior season after tearing his right ACL in a Sept. 13 game at Charleroi. On just 36 carries, he rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a junior, he led the WPIAL in rushing with 2,689 yards.

Since suffering the injury, McKenzie has had surgery and rehabilitation. He said trainers have been impressed with his progress and he expects to be ready for the start of the 2014 season.

The decision from McKenzie caps off something of a recruiting whirlwind for local prospects. In the past 12 days, four of the 10 highest-rated players in the WPIAL announced their college decisions. Though each had Pitt among their finalists, only one -- Mt. Lebanon offensive lineman Alex Bookser -- committed to the Panthers.

While McKenzie liked the Pitt coaching staff, the fact that the Panthers already had three running backs in their 2014 class led to what McKenzie described as some personal uncertainty.

"I'm a target in the area, a four-star guy and they go out and get three other running backs," he said. "They're good backs, but you've got somebody in your backyard, so there was a loyalty there I just wasn't very certain about."

Mike Bosnic, McKenzie's high school coach and a former lineman at Pitt, saw the stress and intensity that came with his star player's decision. But now with the process over, he thinks it was beneficial choice. He also thinks McKenzie has the potential to be special.

"Virginia Tech usually has a great running back, and he fits that mold," Bosnic said. "He can play every down, he's explosive and, if he's fortunate and has some luck, he may be an NFL-type guy."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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