Lead rusher, McKenzie, optimistic

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    By ERIK R. RASMUSSEN

    How do you follow up a season that broke records for rushing attempts, first downs rushing, and total yards rushing? According to 1996 Cougar leading rusher Brian McKenzie, you follow with more of the same.

    Much has been said of the loss of Ronney Jenkins, suspended from all games this season, but the Cougar coaches and players are determined to focus on the positive aspects of their formidable backfield.

    The starting backfield features returning senior, McKenzie, and sophomore fullback, Kelani Sitake. And to hear them tell it this season’s running game will live up to last season’s.

    “It’s my last year, I have to go out and give it all, really let it all hang out,” said McKenzie, 22, a sociology major from Sarasota, Fla. “And Kelani, he’s a load. He’s like a thoroughbred horse; he can knock you down, run by you, whatever.”

    McKenzie breathed strength into a BYU offense that has traditionally been dismissed as nothing more than a pass crazy team. The power of last year’s ground attack was a major component in propelling the Cougars to their highest ranking since 1984, fifth.

    “We might run the ball more this year, but there’s no telling yet,” McKenzie said of this year’s offensive plan. “But they’re never going to give up the air attack, they’re always going to pass.”

    McKenzie started last season at 191 pounds, but after lifting diligently he muscled up to 215 pounds, his current playing weight. He has drawn attention from NFL scouts and is a team leader.

    “I like being a role model on the field. I want to be someone people can come to if they need help,” McKenzie said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college; I’m doing this for them. Everybody back home can’t do this.”

    McKenzie roomed with Jenkins during fall training camp, which began August 16th, and was glad Jenkins was back in school.

    Speaking about Jenkins’ suspension McKenzie said, “it’s not going to weaken us, but it takes away a strength. I wish he could play, having him back there is like a one-two punch.”

    “But Ronney’s not going to run away from it,” McKenzie continued. “He’s married now; he’s showing he’s a man and he can deal with stuff like this.”

    McKenzie also commented about being a minority at a predominantly white university.

    “If you come from an all-black community you come here and check it out, so you know what you’re getting into,” he said. “It will be a struggle, but at the end you progress and get ahead. I’m glad I came here, have stayed out of trouble and can get a degree. If I’d gone somewhere else I’d probably be a whole other person.”

    McKenzie is excited for the Washington game this Saturday, and is seeking to produce a better outcome than last year’s.

    “It’s not a grudge, but something we have to prove to ourselves: that we can play better than we did last time,” he said. “The key is going out and playing the ball game and not worrying about anything else. Last year we were thinking about other things, like looking good on T.V. This year I think everyone knows that’s the team that cost us a championship.”

    Sitake, 21, a sophomore from Kirkwood, Mo, planning to major in management, is the man who will share the running load with McKenzie, and use his freight train like body to lead block for his backfield mate.

    Sitake played in all 13 games in 1994 as a back-up fullback before leaving to serve in the Oakland, California Mission. With Dustin Johnson moving from fullback to tight end, Sitake has earned the starting job as the backfield’s big-man.

    “It’s exciting. When I was here as a freshman Dustin was hurt and we worked together on blocking skills,” Sitake said. “I went on my mission, I came back and he’s starting at tight end and I’m at fullback. I’m looking forward to the year, we have a good team; there are a lot of athletes.”

    Sitake’s family has moved into the Timpview school district were Sitake’s younger brother is a senior in high school and a football player. The older Sitake says that people need to look-out for his younger sibling.

    “With a little brother you always want to see him better than what you are,” Sitake said. “Being a good older brother is part of a loving family.”

    Sitake feels his mission helped him as a football player.

    “I really matured a lot,” he said. “I know what I need to do. On your mission you set goals and you learn what you have to do. I’m more organized now, I have a Franklin and everything.”

    Sitake is 6 feet 1 inch tall, and weighs 245 pounds. He has the same excitement for the Washington game as McKenzie.

    “Obviously we want to win; we can if we come to play prepared,” he said. “Last time we were lethargic. We just have to worry about our game.”

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