A young man from Highland Park, Michigan by the name of Reggie McKenzie was recruited by Coach Bump Elliott to play for the Maize and Blue 1968. Reggie’s parents, Henry Jr, and Hazel became a large family of eight children. Mr. McKenzie was born in Georgia and worked on the family’s farm in the rural part of the state. In essence, that meant that his formal education was terminated at a very young age. And, it also meant that Reggie’s father knew about hard work and did not overindulge his children. Further, Reggie, knew that McKenzie was the original name of the families Caucasian slave owner in Savannah, Georgia.
One could say that Reggie had an edge, imprinted right from the start. He didn’t expect much, and realized early that he had to count and take responsibility for himself. He delivered the Detroit Free Press and the Highland Parker newspapers from the age of 12, through high school. In fact, at the young age of 16 he also misled an employer about his age during a labor strike in Detroit and got hired for a limited time working with the John F. Ivory Moving Company. For him to have more than one job at a time, was not unusual.
As a ninth grader, he went out for freshman football, and played defensive end an offensive tackle. In the 10th grade, Reggie moved up and played on the reserve football team at both positions. He realized that in order to become more proficient and dominant, he had to improve physically by becoming stronger and a faster runner. So, to get physically stronger, he became good friends with his neighbor who lifted weights, and played football. This neighbor also had a bad ass reputation in the neighborhood. Reggie’s friend Oliver, taught him about weightlifting and the various exercises required to increase brute strength and power. And it worked. To become more fleet of foot, Reggie went out for the track and field team. He threw the shot put and ran track. That track experience served him well because he learned how to run on his toes, while the same time, pumping his arms. With this new running form, he became faster and accomplished his goal.
Reggie was described by position coach Gary Moeller as being somewhat uncoordinated, but worked his tail to become proficient, to excel and to dominate. Yes, Coach Bo Schembechler got on him, and Reggie nearly quit the team but with the help of one of his “Mellow Men” teammates and an older sister, he did not quit the team. In fact, this Wolverine became All-American; became the second round pick or 27th pick overall by the Buffalo Bills; selected a first team All NFL player; and was inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
Most notably, while with the Buffalo Bills, Reggie McKenzie started what was called the Electric Company. This referred to the offensive line that paved the way for OJ Simpson to become the NFL’s first 2000 yard rusher. One might say, that it wasn’t for Reggie, OJ would not have that football notoriety and distinction.
After Reggie’s senior year in 1971, Coach Schembechler invited Reggie to play in a college All-Star game coached by Bo and Alabama’s Bear Bryant. Reggie refused by telling coach, he had a previous commitment but under his breath said to himself “I’m through with him.” At that point. Reggie didn’t want any more to do with Coach Schembechler. However, a few years later, Reggie’s heart softened and he approached his former coach and told him about his intention of starting a foundation.
At this juncture, his relationship with coach Schembechler took on a different meaning. The coach worked with Reggie by providing football materials, showing up at his banquets and fundraising, as well as demonstrating his support for Reggie’s project in many ways. This proud, large and exceptional athlete with the now softened heart learned to love his coach as he knew that his coach loved him as well. Although Coach Schembechler died, the Reggie McKenzie Foundation continues to be alive. Relationships do change as all it takes is for one’s heart to soften.
Go Blue Go!