When you play at three different major division one football programs you're bound to have connections in a lot of places by the time your college career is over. Such is the case for South Florida linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who has a pair of friends in the Bills organization in linebacker Alvin Bowen and assistant special teams/linebackers coach DeMontie Cross.
McKenzie (6'2" 244) began his college career at Michigan State, but his mother fell ill and he returned home to Florida where he spent his spring semester in early 2005.
"I got a job at the Hampton Inn working from 11 at night to 7 in the morning while training during the day as well," said McKenzie.
The linebacker then transferred to Iowa State where he became fast friends with Bowen, who had also been a transfer from community college the year before. But that wasn't all the two young linebackers had in common.
"We're kind of from the same background because his parents are from Jamaica and so are mine," said Bowen. "So we kind of clicked while we were at Iowa State together."
And the two would click on the field as well.
"We had a lot of fun," said McKenzie. "He's a similar player to me, different size, but he wants to get to the ball. He's a sideline to sideline player and so me and him would go at it in terms of who would get more tackles each game and we just had a great time."
Bowen finished with a conference leading 155 tackles in 2006 and earned All-Big 12 first team honors. McKenzie finished with 129 and earned second team accolades.
"We put up good numbers," said Bowen. "We were the top two in the Big 12 in tackles. It was me, him and Jonathan Banks so we all kind of did our thing at Iowa State."
Both were coached by DeMontie Cross, currently an assistant under Dick Jauron on his Buffalo Bills' staff.
"Coach Cross is a coach that's passionate about his work, so when you're a player being coached by a guy like that it helps you succeed on the field," said McKenzie.
Unfortunately family matters again prompted McKenzie to be closer to his Florida home and the linebacker was forced to transfer a second time, as he moved on to the University of South Florida.
McKenzie had been the man of the house since he was nine-years old after his father had died following a two-year battle with colon cancer. With an ill mother and three sisters, McKenzie felt it necessary to be there for his family.
"Being the man of the house helped me become a man and helped me in the situation I'm in right now," McKenzie said. "So transitioning into the NFL, I'm going to have a step up on a lot of people."
At South Florida McKenzie continued his collegiate career with the same success he had at Iowa State posting 114 tackles in 2007 and 116 in 2008. McKenzie was named All-Big East second team as a junior and All-Big East first team in his final college campaign.
Coming off a strong Senior Bowl performance and with speed in the mid 4.6s, McKenzie is expected to be off the board before the second round of the 2009 draft is in the books, especially if he has a solid workout at the NFL Combine.
"I feel I proved some things. It was a great experience," said McKenzie of his Senior Bowl week. "I really got a chance to work on some techniques so it really helped me out."
With the ability to play all three linebacker positions and known as a film junkie, McKenzie stands a very good chance of becoming an NFL success.
"He's really a great athlete," said Bowen. ""I believe wholeheartedly that he's going to be a solid NFL player."