South Xtra: Washington's McKenzie takes his mind off recruiting by winning titles

HIGH SCHOOL TRACK & FIELD


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The life of a highly touted football recruit can be something of a whirlwind in the modern age.

With numerous recruiting websites, the increased lure of social media and legions of fans from several college programs eagerly awaiting a single decision, it can be a taxing and overwhelming process.

It's a reality of which Shai Mc-Kenzie is very well aware.

A junior at Washington High School, McKenzie went from a little-known commodity to a heralded running back prospect last season, gaining all of the exposure that comes with such a rise.

So with football season still several months away, what does Mc-Kenzie turn to as a way to continue training and shed some of the ever-increasing spotlight? His school's track and field team.

In his second season with the Prexies, McKenzie has thrived, showing that his involvement with the sport is much more than just a way to stay in shape. Last Thursday at the WPIAL individual championships, he won the Class AA shot put title and was a member of the winning 400-meter relay team.

In advance of what will be one of the busiest times of his life, the track has been a productive escape haven for McKenzie.

"It keeps me busy and it keeps my mind off a lot of things," he said. "I enjoy running track and it's something I'm going to continue to do."

McKenzie first joined the track team for his sophomore season after putting up solid, if unspectacular, numbers on Washington's football team.

His involvement with track remains the same, but his stature in the world of high school football changed drastically after he had an explosive junior season in which he led the WPIAL in rushing and led the Prexies to the Class AA championship game.

With that increase in production have come the understandable benefits, as McKenzie is ranked among the top 200 players in the country by Rivals.com, a national recruiting service, and has scholarship offers from more than 30 Division I colleges.

This season, he has blossomed on the track as well, winning that shot put title last Thursday at Baldwin with a throw of 53 feet, 1 inch that was more than a foot better than his nearest competitor, Ryan Smider of South Park.

Along with helping Washington's 400-meter relay team take first place, McKenzie also finished fourth in the 100-meter dash, just behind another one of the region's top football prospects, Aliquippa's Dravon Henry. His strong performances came a week after he was one of several standouts who helped lead the Prexies to the boys' WPIAL Class AA team title.

"He's been a great asset to the team," Washington track and field coach Teresa Booker said. "Going into each meet, whether it's a section meet or the WPIAL meet, he's stepped up for us and given us the points we've needed to get where we're at."

McKenzie still trains for much of the year with the football team, which helps him maintain his strength while using track to improve his speed.

Several members of the Washington football team also run track -- among them, Josh Wise, Mykhael Kelley, Darius Spinks and Quorteze Levy -- with Mc-Kenzie noting that there is some crossover between the sports that has benefitted him and others as athletes.

"It helps a lot, I think," he said. "It gets you faster and keeps you going. You never want to just sit around.

"Some people want to lift and just get bigger, but you have to balance it out. You can't be one or the other."

With the PIAA meet beginning Friday, McKenzie figures to be one of the favorites in the shot put and was able to qualify in the other two sprint events in which he competed at the WPIAL championships.

Regardless of how he finishes at Shippensburg University, it will not be the conclusion of his career as he plans on running as a senior. Even though a future as a big-time running back awaits him, McKenzie will try to make his final act in the sport his best.

"I think you're going to see more of Shai doing track," Booker said. "Football is obviously his thing, but I think you're going to see him devoting himself to track and giving it his all.

"You're definitely going to see him as a contender again next year."

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Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published May 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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