In this week’s edition of Nick’s Recruiting Lab we are taking a look at the engine of the Aliquippa (Aliquippa, PA) offense, Avante McKenzie (JR 5’8 180 RB/FS) . McKenzie rushed for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore while earning all-conference honors. In 2016 while posting those numbers, McKenzie split time with now graduated Davion Jones. Without Jones in the backfield for the 2017 campaign, McKenzie has become the work horse and the primary catalyst of this 7-0 Quips football team. Aliquippa’s offense since the Mike Zmijanac era began has been predicated on running the football and having the talent in the backfield to do so. McKenzie has earned the right to be mentioned in rare air with former Quip running back legends Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson as the centerpiece of a state championship-caliber Aliquippa team. After coming off a 28-0 victory over Clairton last week, McKenzie and the Quips travel to Quaker Valley Stadium Friday night to take on an undefeated Quakers team (7-0) looking to make a statement in 3A. This has all the makings of what could very well end up being game of the year in the WPIAL.
McKenzie is a special back and is putting it on display this year. What McKenzie lacks in height he makes up for in speed and power. McKenzie runs with excellent vision and anticipation, carefully setting up running lanes and showing Division I burst upon hitting his holes. Bottom heavy backs who can move like this show tremdnous explosiveness, the cornerstone characteristic of any big time football player. As McKenzie begins to garner more attention, I anticipate the first to the table being some upper-end FCS universities with the potential to grow bigger depending entirely on how his senior season progresses. Without further ado, let’s head to the lab to break down the buzz surrounding the Junior from Aliquippa.
Here’s a variation of what I like to call a crack-lead. Aliquippa motions their wingback all the way across the formation to crack down on the end man on the LOS. What this does is give McKenzie what is essentialy a 2-way go to either follow the FB inside through the B gap while also having the option to press the hole and bounce outside off the crack block from the motioned over wing back. McKenzie does a very nice job of setting this up, he presses this upto the LOS, eyes on the Mike Linebacker and works off him. In this case, this MLB beats the tackle and flashes pretty clean where this ball is intended to go. McKenzie just anticipates this beautifully within the scheme of the play, he makes this run go in, out, then sticks his foot in the ground to get back in. The small details of this play is what I found most impressive. Did I mention from that point he also carried 3 defenders about 10 yards on his back and then breaks free into the open field? Well, he did. Great exhibition of skill and power on display here.
Play 2 here is the same concept minus the wing motion. This is just a simple lead play but McKenzie’s talent and natural athleticism turns this into a lot more. McKenzie again presses this ball into the LOS tightening up the 2nd level and shows that speed and burst to bounce this around the corner and up the sideline for a 23 yard rip. This is the type of running style that draws D1 attention. Defenses from high school up will load the box and manufacture ways to get the ball to bounce outside, in turn forcing your run game to become east and west. You have to have the lateral agility and quickness to get outside of the box, around the edge, and up the field. Most of the big chunk run plays I see at the collegiate and pro level are made just like that. That’s what seperates the good backs from great backs and that’s what you see here.
Aliquippa has a counter G-kick call on in this clip. You can see McKenzie take what I like to call a joker step, buying some time for the BSG to pull and kick. McKenzie’s vision again stands out. This play is designed to hit the backside B gap, he is essentially supposed to get underneath his guard and through the hole. What’s really fascinating is his ability to take the tiniest pause as he sees this weakside linebacker beat the playside tackle’s down block. He recognizes the penetration and is able to jump cut outside and up the field. Really terrific stuff here from Avante McKenzie.
Here we have a nice box shot of what’s a very similar play to the last. Here we have that same counter step followed by this time the Backside Tackle pulling around into the B gap. McKenzie again feeling the flow of the defense and the traffic jam at the point of attack, puts the burners on and gets this ball outside. I love inside- out runners. I think it takes a special kind of patience and understanding of the game to make these kind of runs consistently happen. It may look like just another run play, but in between the lines there’s a lot to read.
These 4 clips to me were the best examples of why Aliquippa is able to have the success they do. These are simple run schemes, but with a back like Avante McKenzie they become splash plays capable of breaking the back of opposing defenses. This young man is special. If you happen to find yourself in the Sewickley area Friday night pop over to Chuck Knox Stadium to catch #35 put on a show in a clash of 3A titans.