In 2018, the Pac-12 was home to the most Hawaiian-born D1 football players (41) by a huge margin. What is it about living on an island in the pacific ocean that morphs the gentle Polynesian people into athletic monsters? I think I have an idea...
St. Louis High School (Honolulu, HI) churned out another 6’2-300 pound island unit, nose tackle Stanley McKenzie, capable of mass destruction in the backfield. Cal earned Stanley’s commitment after he turned down offers from Arizona, and Boise State amongst others, by selling him on their family first atmosphere, and “what they can offer after football” says Mackenzie. “They’ve got something special going on there, I’m excited to be apart of the program.”
He’s not wrong. Year after year, the Golden Bears have looked increasingly crisp and complete as a program, resulting in a 2018 OT loss to TCU in the Cheez-It Bowl. Cal’s defense has made Usain Bolt-sized strides, just 4-5 years after being one of the weakest units in the nation.
Growing up in Hawaii, believe it or not, football was always second to baseball. I actually spent the majority of my childhood playing baseball. Many of us island boys see sports in general as a way to earn a scholarship. But, we aren’t as fortunate as the kids in the US mainland, where traveling is a lot easier. It makes the (high school) competition get pretty crazy because kids see this as their window of opportunity to showcase their talents. Many of us can’t afford to go to the mainland and attend these camps. -Stanley
Stanley, fortunately, has risen to the top of the crop of the fertile recruiting grounds that is Polynesia. He did so with a non-stop motor, active hands, and some sweet feet. Most impressive to me is his dominance of the LOS on both downhill and lateral plays. His feel for leverage, both between himself, the O-line, and the ball carrier appears coached to perfection. His speed allows him to showcase his smarts in the trenches, resulting in impressive production from the nose tackle position.
“It’s not for everybody”, (you can say that again), “but I know the position well and I have a good understanding of what my job is. I truly believe that a solid defense works from the inside out.” - Stanley
But he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not just a nose.
“I can play anywhere on the line. I feel my strength is in the run game, but I’m always looking to improve my pass rush.” - Stanley
Aren’t we all? A wise man once told me that the best defensive linemen earn the right to rush the passer, but stopping the run in the early downs.
Practice at St Louis High, with its 10+ D1-bound football players, is quite the show. This level of competition will bode well for him come Pac-12 time. Stanley continues:
“The majority of the St. Louis 2020 class been together since middle school. We spend a lot of time together and are very tight. THE BROTHERHOOD IS REAL AT THE LOU!! We’ve got so much more talent at Saint Louis in our class alone it’s crazy, I’m praying my other brothers get their opportunities soon.”
Stanley will be entering a Cal defensive line rotation that Nick Kranz of SB Nation called “the most intriguing unit on the defense” due to the fact that the LB’s and DB’s are already proven. Although, as of late, Cal’s defense hasn’t been performing how many projected them to perform. Still, Stanley regularly tunes into Cal games, paying close attention to his future unit in the trenches.
“Just the defensive line alone is what I enjoy watching the most. It doesn’t matter who or what team, I take a lot of it in and watch how they use their hands, deal with double teams and just different defensive schemes especially pertaining to the position I play.”
Finally, with the new “Pay to Play Act” being passed by the state in which his university is named after, Stanley actually hasn’t given much thought to the bill.
“I think it’s cool, but for myself, it’s not a priority, I’m just focused on trying to get myself physically and mentally right before I step foot on campus.”
Spoken like a true competitor. I would bet anything that the vast majority of even the most sought after H.S. recruits haven’t given much thought to this matter either. Balancing the recruiting process, along with football practice and every day highschool happenings leaves little to no time left to worry about politics.
What remains to be seen is the point in time when these soon to be collegiate superstars have their own “Eureka!” moment, after Nike comes knocking on their door with a few racks for a commercial, or an Instagram post.
I’d like to circle back to the question I posed in this column’s intro. If you ask me (which nobody did), based on my experience with these gentle giants, I’ll offer this insight. Is it possible that Polys just get mad when announcers (inevitably) mess their names up, and the closest outlet of anger is standing right in front of them wearing a different color jersey?
Or is it just the size of those calves?