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McKenzie fired up for chance to get on the field

05.18.10 at 1:45 pm ET
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Tyrone McKenzie chats with the media Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium.

FOXBORO — Few players are more excited for the start of OTA’s and minicamps than linebacker Tyrone McKenzie.

McKenzie, a third-round pick out of the University of South Florida in 2009, blew out his ACL during rookie minicamp last year. Consigned to injured reserve for the entire season, he said Tuesday morning instead of going home, he spent the year with the team, trying to soak in as much as he could while essentially taking a redshirt season at the NFL level.

“Last year, I treated it as a season for me,” the 24-year-old said. “I treated it as [a season], even though I wasn’t playing, I learned everything I could have. I just tried to be around the guys and learn everything I can to ready myself for this year.”

According to McKenzie, staying in New England was his decision.

“It was my choice,” McKenzie said. “The team, nothing is mandatory. They can encourage what they want. They wanted me to be around for the surgery and so forth. I decided to stay up here.

“Me going away, I’m not going to learn anything. I could have [taken] my playbook, and tried to learn as much as I can, but there’s no coach around for me to ask questions. The coaches are busy throughout the season. So every chance you have to grab them, when you’re in the linebacker meeting room, that’s your chance to ask a question real quick, and so it was best for me to stay up here. I sat in on all the meetings. I learned everything that I could. That was the goal, learn everything I could. And when they went to go practice, I did my rehab.”

McKenzie is already an amazing story, having battled long odds just to stay in school. After his mother was involved in an accident five years ago and was unable to work, McKenzie ended up transferring to play closer to home. He ended his college career a veteran of three different programs (Michigan State, Iowa State and South Florida), and at one point, was attending college while also working the overnight shift at a Hampton Inn to help support his mother and siblings.

Now, after a year in the program and 12 months of rehab later, he’s at a point where he’s not restricted in any way. Almost 10 pounds heavier than he was as a collegian (he said he’s at 248), he said he won’t have to wear a knee brace, and added that he looks forward to the competition with other players like Gary Guyton and rookie Brandon Spikes for the inside linebacker spot opposite Jerod Mayo.

“I’m very strong, I’m very fast. I have a lot of assets that are part of my game. You guys can fill in the blanks,” he said. “I’ll give you plenty to write about. I just have to get on the field first.”

Ultimately, he remains philosophical about what happened to him last season.

“Things are gonna happen, injuries are gonna happen in your career,” said McKenzie. “Like they say, ‘Scars are signs of a competitor.’ You just need to keep competing and get better each day.

“You just have to be strong and keep bouncing back,” he added. “That’s what I’ve done my entire life. Now I’m just excited to play.”

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