Vols tackle McKenzie benefits from dropping to 'slim 315'

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie arrived on campus amid enormous expectations to match his massive physique.

One year later, McKenzie wants to produce bigger games with a slightly smaller frame. The sophomore hopes his weight loss allows him to live up to the promise of a five-star recruit with family members who played at Tennessee.

McKenzie, who was listed as 344 pounds on Tennessee's 2015 roster, says he played between 327-335 last season. He's changed his body enough that Tennessee coach Butch Jones describes McKenzie as ''a slim 315 pounds,'' though the Vols' current roster still lists him as 325.

''It was kind of a shock, to be honest,'' said McKenzie, who was last 315 as a junior in high school. ''I didn't think it was really going to happen. It's a great feeling, getting back down to that weight. You just feel a lot better. You can move a lot better. You're not winded as easily.''

Much has been expected of McKenzie since he signed with Tennessee. He was rated as a five-star recruit by multiple services and was considered the nation's No. 1 player in his class by Scout.

There's also the matter of living up to the family name. McKenzie is the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who played linebacker at Tennessee from 1981-84 and in the NFL from 1985-92. McKenzie's uncle, Raleigh McKenzie, played offensive line at Tennessee from 1981-84 and in the NFL from 1985-2000.

''They know what it takes,'' McKenzie said. ''They were there. They did it. So everything they say to me, I take as a little nugget, something that's going to help me. They did it, so whatever they say clearly worked. I take everything they say and kind of mentally put it in the bank so I can use it for the future.''

McKenzie had a tough time living up to his billing last season. He didn't play his senior year in high school because of an eligibility issue stemming from his transfer to Clayton Valley Charter School in Concord, California. He wasn't fully healthy in training camp and finished the season with 24 tackles and one sack in a reserve role.

As he attempted to improve, McKenzie relied on the advice he received from his dad and uncle. McKenzie said they stressed ''helping my team whatever way I can to win.''

Jones noted McKenzie worked ''very, very, very hard'' in reaching a more manageable weight.

''If you put McDonald's in your body, you're going to perform like McDonald's,'' McKenzie said. ''You've got to know what to eat, how to train and things like that. (It's) really just conditioning your mind to be able to take that next step, be able to say no to McDonald's when you know it's an easy meal.''

McKenzie's teammates have noticed the difference in him. The changes go well beyond dropping weight and changing his uniform number from No. 1 to No. 99.

''I've definitely seen him be more explosive than he was his freshman year,'' senior defensive end Corey Vereen said. ''That's a good sign. (He's) using his hands better. We were really on him last year about using his hands and not just shouldering people. This is the SEC. You have to use good hand work.''

That change in approach could help McKenzie produce bigger numbers, though he passed up the opportunity Tuesday to discuss individual goals for this season. He only talked about being ''one piece of a puzzle'' as part of Tennessee's deepest defensive line in many years.

''I'm just trying to win the national championship with the rest of my teammates,'' McKenzie said. ''Everybody, we have the same goal. We're just trying to be the best team we can possibly be.''

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AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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