Notre Dame football recruiting: Irish trying to corral an elusive target

South Bend Tribune

Isaiah McKenzie won’t have any problems filling a highlight reel.

A month into his senior season at American Heritage in Plantation, Fla., the 5-foot-8, 167-pound Notre Dame recruiting target has sparked plenty of electricity on the field.

It started with a preseason game on ESPN in August and has continued at a steady pace. In that first game, McKenzie returned two punts for touchdowns that were called back because of penalties and scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass that started with a catch on the left side of the field, saw McKenzie cross over to the right side and then reverse field to score down the left sideline.

Each play showed an elusiveness that has caught the eyes of college coaches and has continued to terrorize American Heritage opponents. Footage of his 90-yard kickoff return touchdown in a season-opening loss to Miami Central found its way onto SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. Weaving across the field and breaking away from defenders made the play look as comical as it was impressive.

One version of the play on YouTube has more than 50,000 views. The top comment reads “I bet the police hate him.” McKenzie’s reputation as an elusive runner has sky-rocketed, and he’s still adjusting to the attention.

“It's been good. I don't let it get to my head or anything,” McKenzie said. “It's never happened to me before so I was kinda happy. Now I feel like I have to make more plays. I want to keep doing that every week.”

He’s maintained a steady slew of highlights despite a scary moment in the second game of the season on Sept. 6. McKenzie was carted off the field on a stretcher after taking a shot to the head. He was later diagnosed with a concussion and returned to the playing field a week later. He promptly scored three touchdowns – an 85-yard run, a 59-yard pass reception and an 80-yard punt return – in a win over Miami Columbus last Thursday.

His eye-catching highlights have brought increased attention from Texas Tech, Kansas State and Texas A&M, but McKenzie remains focused on five schools, with Notre Dame and Rutgers sitting at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Offers from West Virginia, Cincinnati and Kentucky are also currently receiving consideration from the South Florida sparkplug.

McKenzie originally planned to make a decision on a verbal commitment in early October, but has since eliminated his personal deadline. Now he hopes to use his official visits before choosing a landing place while keeping his focus on the field.

“Hopefully we can win the state championship. That's what our team's goal is this year,” McKenzie said. “Everything else will fall in place. I really want to get 900 or 1,000 yards in the season. I might not get it, but I'm going for it.”

Despite his diminutive stature, American Heritage plays McKenzie all over the field. The majority of his work comes as a wide receiver and return specialist, but he also takes some carries away from Georgia running back commit Sony Michel and plays in the secondary at times.

"I like playing all over the field,” McKenzie said. “It's kinda fun … until I start cramping up and everything.”

Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Tony Alford keeps in regular contact with McKenzie, and recently freshman linebacker Michael Deeb reached out to his former teammate. McKenzie remains scheduled to officially visit Notre Dame in October for the USC game, the biggest recruiting weekend of the season for the Irish.

Already familiar with Notre Dame following a week-long visit in the summer, McKenzie said he’s anxious to return even if he already has a good grasp on what to expect.

"I can't say I'm looking for anything because I saw everything I need to see: the school, the people and the way of living up there. I've seen everything,” McKenzie said. “I want to see how the team is, how their season's going and see how they use their players and how they think I can make their team a better team.”

McKenzie’s other scheduled official visit is planned for Dec. 7 at Rutgers. Any other trips will be planned in the coming months before a commitment decision is made.

"I'm just going to take my visits for now and see where that leads,” McKenzie said.

More South Florida offers

A pair of prospects from Fort Lauderdale’s University School recently reported offers from Notre Dame.

Junior Rashard Causey, a 5-10, 175-pound cornerback, and sophomore Sam Bruce, a 5-7, 166-pound wide receiver, have both reported offers from Notre Dame in the last week.

Causey, a three-star prospect in early 2015 rankings by 247Sports, holds offers from Miami, South Carolina, UCLA, Michigan and several others. Bruce, a nephew of former NFL star Isaac Bruce, has already accumulated an offer list in the double digits that includes Florida, Florida State, Miami and USC.

Alford recruits the University School program and has already received a verbal commitment from senior defensive end Richard Yeargin III.

Brian Kelly