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Raleigh McKenzie: A long shot that paid off

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Jim Gehman

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Many rookies know that the preseason is the best opportunity they have to prove they can play in the NFL. They realize it’s a long shot to make a team’s roster. For most of them, that opportunity has all but closed with the final cut down date just two days away.

But there’s always hope. One former long shot, Raleigh McKenzie, proved that 25 years ago. His story is included in my book: “Then Gibbs Said to Riggins…”


Beating the Odds to Become a Hog

If nothing else, the Redskins learned right away that Raleigh McKenzie, an offensive lineman they had just chosen in the 11th round of the 1985 draft, was not a night owl. For that matter, neither was his twin brother, Reggie, a linebacker who was picked by the Raiders.

“It was a late call, like 1:00 in the morning,” said McKenzie. “I thought the draft was over, but my brother had gotten a call about 12:00 or so. And, of course, he woke everybody up. His [selection] was in the 10th round, and I said, 'Well, they’ve got two more rounds. I may get a call.’ And I fell back asleep.”

Well rested when he reported to Washington’s training camp, McKenzie knew that he had a limited time to make an impression on the coaches, and that that impression had better be good. “I was there for every practice and everything they were teaching me and telling me, I was doing everything they asked. So I think every time they threw me in there, there were no mental mistakes. I think I did really well. They had the rookie camp first, so we did our deal for a whole week. And then as soon as the veterans came in, you just kind of get on the backburner.

“[But guard] Ken Huff had to stay home for the first couple days and so [offensive line coach] Joe Bugel stuck me in there early. I guess to see what I was made of. I think I impressed them right off the bat because I had to go up against [6’ 8”, 320-pound veteran defensive tackle] Dave Butz.”

Bugel was not the only one who was curious about what McKenzie was made of. So were the veteran offensive linemen. “Russ [Grimm], [Jeff] Bostic, Mark May, and [Joe] Jacoby – they kind of treated me like the rookie that I was. There wasn’t too much love there,” laughed McKenzie. “But I think once they saw me practice and things like that, they all took turns and gave me pointers here and there and kind of helped me along. So that was a good thing.”

McKenzie deposited those pointers in his memory bank and performed well during camp and the preseason. That helped him to start gaining some confidence. “Once I started watching film, especially of other teams, the first thing that was in my mind was I thought I had the ability to play in this league. I just wanted that chance. Once the preseason games started, that’s when they let the young guys play. If you understand what’s going on and you know the plays and stuff, I got in there and did all that.”

McKenzie did enough to beat the enormous odds and make the Redskins. And in his first start the following season on September 21 in San Diego, he was named as the Offensive Player of the Game.
 

Jimbo

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Great stuff! Always liked Rollo. Finally got around to ordering the book from Amazon, along with a bunch of other Redskins stuff. :D
 

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