McKenzie, Hunter sign

Published 12:10 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

ben hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Trinity Episcopal standout Tip McKenzie receives a handshake of congratulation from one of his classmates Wednesday morning after signing to play for Vanderbilt University. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)


NATCHEZ — Trinity Episcopal’s Tip McKenzie and Terrence Hunter made things official Wednesday morning when they each put pen to paper to sign their letters of intent to play Division I college football.

McKenzie, an all-purpose athlete who played on both sides of the ball for the Saints, will be headed to Nashville this summer to start his career as a wide receiver and return specialist for the Vanderbilt Commodores.

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“It feels great to get this over with,” McKenzie said. “It’s a lot of pressure off of me.”

Hunter is headed to the Big Apple to continue his playing career at Fordham University in New York City. Hunter plans on playing defensive end for the Rams.

“The mix of academics and Division I football (is why I decided on Fordham),” Hunter said. “There’s just nothing like it.”

McKenzie had several offers from schools around the country, but the lure of playing in the Southeastern Conference and playing for a program on the rise drew him to Vanderbilt, he said.

“They have a good coaching staff, and they are making changes up there, and I want to be a part of it,” he said.

McKenzie has been dealing with a knee injury for a few months, but he said he is looking forward to getting back on the field.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I’ve been laid off and didn’t end my senior season too well. I’m looking forward to strapping it back on.”

Trinity head coach David King said McKenzie will bring the intangibles coaches want in a football player to Vanderbilt along with his outstanding athletic ability.

“Tip’s a hard worker,” King said. “He’s the ultimate competitor. He’s got hunger, and he’s got all the tools you want.”

King said McKenzie had a seamless transition when he joined the Saints two seasons ago.

“He just mixed in well with a great team last year,” King said. “And he obviously was a huge portion of this (year’s) ball club. He was a threat to go all the way every time he touched (the ball).”

McKenzie’s father, Shedrick McKenzie, said seeing his son sign to play with an SEC school was a dream for him, and he is looking forward to seeing Tip compete for SEC titles in his career.

Shedrick also said he wanted to recognize the Trinity coach for contributing to some of Tip’s success.

“I want to thank Coach King for pushing him,” Shedrick said.

McKenzie said he would head to Nashville in June to start classes and work outs with the team.

Hunter’s mother, Sharon Hunter Woodfork, struggled to hold back her emotions Wednesday morning at Trinity Episcopal as her son was getting ready to sign his letter of intent.

She said seeing her son get a scholarship to a prestigious institution like Fordham was a dream come true for her.

“It’s becoming real,” she said. “It’s all we hoped for. Before his dad passed away (when Terrence was 3 years old) he told me to make sure I stay hard on him.”

Hunter said he is excited about the opportunities that are ahead of him at Fordham.

“I’m marking my calendar for July 7 when summer training starts and classes start too,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning from the older players up there, a new lifestyle, a new community and going up north.”

Hunter said moving away from home was one of his goals during the recruiting process.

“I wanted to get away from Natchez, but I didn’t know it would be that far,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to see a different part of the world.”

King said watching Hunter develop on and off the field in his four years at Trinity was amazing.

“He’s just matured from his ninth-grade to his senior year,” King said. “It’s unbelievable. He’s a different child. It will be great to see him on the field at Fordham.”

King said hunter was a standout lineman for the Saints in his sophomore and junior seasons, but like McKenzie, Hunter suffered an injury that cut his senior season short.

“They were both hurt senior year,” King said. “We might could have had a three-peat with them and (Daniel) Dunaway (who also suffered a knee injury). But that’s the way the game goes.”

Both players said they understand that they will be attending very prestigious academic institutions, and they know they will have to work off the field.

“You have to get your work in first,” McKenzie said. “That’s the first thing that comes before football.”

Hunter said he hopes to eventually end up in law school.

“You have to focus on academics like no other,” Hunter said. “Just because it’s Division I doesn’t mean you can slack on your grades. You have to be in top shape on both ends.”

Hunter, who had offers from other Division I programs such as Jacksonville State University and several Southwestern Athletic Conference schools, said the academic prestige of Fordham was what separated that school.

“All the other schools were Division I, but the academics at Fordham (stood out),” he said. “It’s not about your four years there, but the years after.”

King said seeing his players continue their careers is something he finds special each season.

“It’s always good to see a kid work hard and get rewarded at the end of their career,” he said. “These are two special ball players and special kids.”