Favorite athlete: Calvin Johnson
Favorite team: Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Favorite memory while playing was actually when I use to play baseball in little league, my team was down at the last inning and I hit a walk off 3 run home run.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: My most embarrassing thing was actually recent, my high school team was playing and I ran down the court on a fast break and thought the ref was on of my teammates so I threw the ball to him and I just laughed it off.
Music on Playlist: Home ain’t Home Youngboy Never Broke Again
Future plans: Future plans is to attend college and proceed to keep playing while in college
Words to live by: “Don’t quit”
One goal before turning 30: Before I turn 30 I would hope to be doing something I love, and settle into a home.
One thing people don’t know about me: Something some people might not know is that I absolutely love food, maybe a little too much at times.
By GORDON GLANTZ
Some stuff, well, you just can’t make up.
Example: The first word ever spoken by Springfield senior Dylan McKenzie was, fittingly, “ball.”
And from as early as he can remember, sports have been front and center in his life.
It was always a family affair.
“Everyone -- my mom, my dad, my uncles, my grandparents – was involved,” he said, giving a special nod to his uncle Andrew. “My parents (Jill and Brent) had me at a young age, so we were around my (extended) family a lot, and everyone was there to help take care of me. They’d be out there having catches with me, throwing footballs and baseballs, or playing basketball. They all helped me. I was just a sports freak when I was younger.”
Although he was a heavy hitter with quick reflexes at the hot corner, McKenzie gave up baseball in high school to focus on football and basketball.
While he misses the national pastime and might try a comeback this spring, he knows it was the right decision.
The game plan is fairly simple for Springfield football coach Chris Shelly – get the ball in McKenzie’s hands.
They line the 6-2, 190-pounder up all over the field – including a package where he plays quarterback – with the idea that the ball is in his hands as much as possible.
For good measure, he returns kicks and punts and is also the punter for the 3-1 Spartans.
Defensively, he plays corner or safety, depending on need.
McKenzie’s only breathers come on kick coverage.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t get a lot of breaks,” he said. “I just take it as a role. Whatever my team needs me for, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just here to make a play. I’ll play running back. I’ll play receiver. I’ll play whatever position they need me to play. If they need me to play line, I’ll play line. Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I just want to help my team win.”
Four games into the season, McKenzie has rushed for 563 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and scored 8 touchdowns on the ground. He has 4 catches for 34 yards and another score, and has also scored on a 94-yard punt return.
“This year, we are more of a run-first offense,” said Shelly. “We challenged him and said, ‘We’re going to put the ball in your hands.’ He has been tremendous so far.”
A Better Person
As good of an athlete as he is, both of McDenzie’s coaches – Shelly and basketball coach Rob Fusaro – concur that his attitude and team-first mentality is what is most impressive.
Translation: If a coach could go into a laboratory and create a dream player, McKenzie would be the prototype.
“I love Dylan,” said Fusaro. “He’s super-talented but also very unselfish. He’s all about the team. He also has a superior athletic ability that he puts on top of all that. He’s very mature. He’s all about his teammates.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Shelly.
“He’s a good athlete, but an even better person,” he said. “I just think the world of him.”
For McKenzie, being a team-first type of player is just part of who he is.
He could score 30 points in a basketball game or have 200 all-purpose yards in a football game, and it wouldn’t matter if the Spartans lose.
“Always,” he said. “I love the guys around me. I always put them first. Without them, none of the stuff that I do would be possible.
“Growing up with these guys, they are just home to me. I’ve got to always put them first. I love them, so it wouldn’t be right for me to get all the credit.”
Shelly is true-blue Springfield, having played there under Bob Malehorn and later serving as an assistant under Dave Puchalski before assuming the reins in 2005.
He rates McKenzie high among the school’s all-timers.
“I have been around Springfield all my life, and I haven’t seen many better than him, athletically,” said Shelly. “He has been, like, a four-year starter for us. That is rare. Even as a freshman, he has never backed down from a challenge.
“You can tell a special kid when he comes along, and he’s a special kid. He can fit any era. He’s that good.”
The Next Level
Both coaches feel McKenzie’s anxiousness about what comes next.
He wants, more than anything, to parlay his athletic skills into a college education.
“He’s a good student and a good kid who comes from a great family,” said Fusaro. “I can’t say enough good things about this kid. I really want him to get an opportunity at the next level and succeed at the next level.
“He puts the work in. He does everything right.”
McKenzie has the grades – a solid GPA in the 3.5 range – and has realized since middle school that the academics are a big part of being the complete package.
He also helps out in the community, doing construction projects with his old middle school coach, Gregory Cannon.
While a leader more by example, he is also growing into a more vocal role as a senior.
“I know that this year I need to be a little bit more vocal,” said McKenzie. “That’s what they expect me to do as a leader. Leading by example is more how I am as a person, but I need to be more vocal and step up. I’ll do whatever my team needs me to do.”
Still, the goal of being a collegiate athlete (Division 1 football is the main goal, although he wouldn’t rule out basketball if the situation offers a better fit) remains out there.
But no solid offers from the higher levels yet. It’s like being a fisherman with a line out in the water waiting for a bite.
“Yes, 100 percent,” lamented McKenzie, adding that an area like sports management or physical science might be his field of study (he is taking related classes now). “I’m really trying. I’m getting looks and stuff, but I haven’t gotten an actual offer yet. After the season, I just need an actual opportunity.”
When both coaches laid eyes on McKenzie, his skill sets were evident enough that he went to the front of the line for playing time – as a freshman for Shelly and a sophomore for Fusaro, who teaches at Germantown Friends.
“When I first got the job, he was somebody who I identified as having a lot of ability,” said Fusaro. “He did a lot of good things.”
With more players to keep an eye on, it was Shelly’s assistants who were first awed by McKenzie.
“The assistant coaches saw it right away on the practice field,” said Shelly. “They saw how dynamic he was. He could win the ball in the air. He’s not superfast, but he is explosive out of his cuts and has tremendous ball skills.”
McKenzie attributes his quiet confidence in his abilities – honed as far back as when his first word was “ball” -- as the reason why he was able to make an instant impact.
“I always knew what I was capable of,” he said. “No matter who I am competing against, I always want to shoot for the highest level. It didn’t really surprise me. I just knew that if I worked hard, it would pay off.”
The Real Deal
With McKenzie as the main weapon, the Spartans have steadily improved on the hardwood.
Last year, he averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, because of COVID, he is not in the ballpark of the magical 1,000 career-point mark (currently sits at 403).
“I don’t even know where I’m at with that,” he said. “I know I was on pace, but that COVID year just kind of messed everything up.”
But leading what will be a young team will be more important.
“For basketball, I just have to show them what I do,” he said. “I’ll need to lead, and make sure they have the same opportunities that I do and feel comfortable with me.
“As they feel comfortable with me and as I feel comfortable with them, it will make it all feel like a better situation. Guys look up to me. I just need to show them the route, and we will be successful that way.”
On the gridiron, though, McKenzie finds himself surrounded by a group of fellow seniors that are like family.
“For football, we don’t have to say much,” he said. “We already know each other. Once we have success, we just kind of keep going.”
Even after a tough 42-21 loss to Phoenixville on the gridiron this past weekend, the plan is look forward and not back.
With that, the hope is that McKenzie will simply become hard to ignore.
“He hasn’t been on people’s radar, and he should be on people’s radar,” said Shelly. “It’s starting to get out there, though.
“I hear about some of these kids from upstate – being all-this and all-that – and I kind of laugh. I’m telling you right now that Dylan is the real deal. He can hang with any of them. We’re happy to have him.
“I just want him to get what he deserves. He is a special kid, no doubt.”