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July 20, 2004

Gators lead for Alabama tight end

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Mobile (Ala.) Davidson tight end/defensive end Gabe McKenzie attended the second session of Florida's Rising Senior camp, so he could meet the coaching staff and tour the campus. But what McKenzie, who only attended the first day of the camp, didn't expect was the personal attention that UF head coach Ron Zook and the coaching staff gave him.

"They treated me like family," McKenzie said. "I liked the camp a lot. They showed me around the campus and everyone was so humble."

Zook spent a lot of time talking with McKenzie and even coached him while McKenzie caught passes from East St. John (La.) quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

"He was just telling me that I would fit right into the program," McKenzie said. "Ben Troupe is gone and he said he needs someone to do the stuff he did. Coach Zook said that he really liked me."

McKenzie, a four-star prospect and No. 6-ranked weakside defensive end, said that he made a "connection" with Zook and also had the chance to meet UF sophomore quarterback Chris Leak.

"He could probably get drafted right now," McKenzie said. "He is going to stay for his four years and get his degree and that is a leader right there."

McKenzie, who has 15 offers, entered the camp with a few favorites atop his list, but left the camp with one clear-cut leader.

"Florida is my favorite right now," he said. "It is just the coaches. I am calling them as much as I can. It is a place that looks like it doesn't have much over there, but football is big down there.

"After Florida it is a mix of schools - LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Miami and I am starting to look at Notre Dame a little bit."

McKenzie said that he has called Zook and UF offensive line coach Joe Wickline each twice since he left the camp. McKenzie ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, had 22 bench press reps of 185 pounds and boasted a vertical jump of 37 inches in his one day at the camp.

Before camping at UF, McKenzie camped at Alabama and FSU. On Sunday, he will be at LSU for its camp.

Time could be running out for other teams to jump into the picture because McKenzie has already started thinking about where he wants to take official visits.

"I already told Florida they are going to be one, Miami and probably LSU," he said. "The other two might be places I haven't been to yet."

While McKenzie is looking at schools out-of-state, the in-state crowd is putting the pressure on him to stay home.

"Everybody is telling me to go to either Alabama or Auburn," he said. "I just tell them I am going to look and it all depends on next year."

McKenzie has a high interest in UF and Miami because of the recent success of its tight ends.

"Ben Troupe and Kellen Winslow are like two of the best tight ends in the country and both of them are from Florida," he said. "Miami has tight ends from all over the country trying to get there, and Florida has only so many people that can fit in a program and take over like Ben Troupe. It took him four years to do that and I feel I can do that in two."

But McKenzie isn't planning an early commitment.

"I am not going to commit early," he said. "I am just going to lay back for a little while and do some research on some colleges. Make sure it is the right decision for me. Basically I am looking how I can fit into the football team. I want to be with people that want to win."

McKenzie will see action at defensive end in the fall for the first time and Rivals.com has ranked him at weakside defensive end, but college coaches are telling McKenzie they want him on offense.

"Basically some teams are saying that I can play mainly anywhere, but tight end is where I feel I can be the best," he said. "There are some schools that want me at defensive end, but most of them want me at tight end in college."

McKenzie, who has a 3.0 GPA and has scored a 17 on the ACT, is gearing up to show everyone why he is one of the best prospects in the state of Alabama.

"(Recruiting) is really fun," McKenzie said. "It is like motivation to have a better season this year."


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