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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Michigan native still seeking first win against Wolverines

After starting 6-0 and 5-0, Minnesota’s football team has seen undefeated seasons and high expectations slip away at the hands of Michigan both of the past two seasons.

While certainly crushing to everyone in a Minnesota uniform, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say those losses stung Kyle McKenzie more than anyone.

As the only player from Michigan on the team, the linebacker came home last year to play in front of numerous friends and family members.

After they watched McKenzie tie a career-high with 10 tackles – two of which were for a loss – they watched their native son’s Gophers choke in the fourth quarter and lose 27-24 on a late touchdown.

Saturday’s noon game at Michigan Stadium is senior McKenzie’s last shot at taking one away from the home team – and making the family proud.

“I look forward to going back there,” McKenzie said. “Because it gives me a chance to see my friends and family, and to show them up front and in person that I can play hard.”

This season, much of the credit for Minnesota’s 4-0 start can be placed on its much improved linebacking corps.

Though their defense allowed 44 points to Penn State last Saturday, McKenzie still said the Gophers’ linebacking corps is one of the Big Ten’s best.

Much of that improvement can be ascribed to the big-time impact of new starters John Shevlin and Mike Sherels, who have been solid in their new roles.

But while it’s been easy to devote most of the attention to new starters Shevlin and Sherels, who have made a major impact, McKenzie has been somewhat overlooked.

Sherels said a lot of his and Shevlin’s development and success this season can be attributed to McKenzie’s tutelage.

“He’s a senior leader on the defense, especially the linebacker corps,” Sherels said. “I’ve learned a lot from his last season, especially how he handled certain situations. Both John (Shevlin) and I have tried to learn from him.”

Though it seems like he hasn’t gotten as much credit as of late, McKenzie has been solid for the Gophers since his redshirt freshman year.

With two games left in the season, McKenzie moved into the starting lineup. Except for two games, he’s been there ever since, even leading the team in tackles last season.

McKenzie might be called on for more tackles than usual this weekend. With playmaking strong safety Brandon Owens out indefinitely with an injury, the rest of Minnesota’s defense is going to need to come up with more big plays.

“It’s tough to lose a player like Brandon,” free safety John Pawielski said. “He’s a great athlete and makes a lot of plays. It’s up to the other 10 guys and his replacement to rally together and make some plays.”

As many as 30 of McKenzie’s friends and family members will be at Saturday’s game at the Big House. McKenzie said this game is especially important to them since it’s the last time they will see him play in college.

And more than anything else, he wants them to see him come out with a win.

“I think everybody on the team wants it just the same as I do,” McKenzie said. “But we go on the field, and being at home and seeing the crowd, I think it’s going to motivate me more to play harder so I can help the team win.”

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