"It Drives You to Want to Make a Difference": Mike McKenzie Gives Back to Youth in His Community
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
As a young football player growing up in the Miami area, Mike McKenzie had a lot of coaches he looked up to.
"The big thing when I was growing up were the people who coached youth football," McKenzie said. “They were doing something they enjoyed. They were full-time, hard-working individuals.
"Just to have those people instill the work ethic and the importance of discipline meant so much to us. It helped me become the player, and more importantly, the man I’ve become."
Those coaches were there for McKenzie as he blossomed as a football player. From the youth football circuit, McKenzie went on to star at Miami Norland High School, earning All-Dade County honors and a scholarship to the University of Memphis.
The Green Bay Packers drafted McKenzie in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft, and the young defensive back immediately cracked the starting lineup. After five full seasons in Green Bay, including three playoff appearances, McKenzie was dealt to the New Orleans Saints early in the 2004 season.
Although knee injuries in 2007 and 2008 left McKenzie without a team to begin the 2009 season, the Saints brought him back to fill in during the regular season after a rash of injuries in their secondary. He appeared in five regular season games for the Saints, and even though he was waived prior to the team's 2009 playoff run, he earned a Super Bowl ring for his contributions.
In 11 seasons, McKenzie appeared in 138 games, starting 131 of them. He recorded 28 interceptions and ran back four picks for TDs.
A respected teammate on the field, McKenzie also gave back off the field. With the help of his wife, Rachel, he started the 34 Ways Foundation, which has helped thousands of disadvantaged children in need in Miami, Memphis, and New Orleans become high school and college graduates. In 2007, McKenzie was the Saints' nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
McKenzie said that that even as a kid playing youth football in Miami, he knew he wanted to give back to his community if he made it.
"There were a lot of individuals who helped me along the way, and I wanted to make sure I could help the next generation find their path to greatness," McKenzie said. "Once I was drafted and in the league, I could do that."
McKenzie said he remembers how important his youth football coaches were to him. With the help of his wife, he has made sure to provide today’s youth with the same guidance and mentoring he received.
"We are working with youth, seeing where they are, and helping them clear those hurdles," McKenzie said. "As adults we understand hurdles come. It’s about how you deal with that adversity.
"Growing up in Miami, graduating from Memphis, being in New Orleans — I saw the plight of those communities. It drives you to want to make a difference. We want to encourage those kids — don’t throw in the towel, learn from your mistakes, persist, and move forward."
Photo: AP/G. Newman Lowrance
- NFL Players and Legends
- Youth Football