As a football player in the city of Ottawa you are exposed to a lot of goals. Goals to play in the CFL, goals to play in the NFL, goals to play at the division one level, goals to play at the CIS level or even goals to become a coach or scout in the future, and in recent history every goal you have within the game of football has begun to look more reachable. The city of Ottawa and the surrounding regions have hosted several world class athletes, as of late we’ve a lot of those athletes come from the game of football, Alex Mateas, Neville Gallimore, Akheem Mesidor and Eli Ankou just to name a few and the list only continues to grow. On the list now and a name that you will begin to know very well is Ottawa resident and now Maine University linebacker Darius Mckenzie. Mckenzie himself has seen a number of Ottawa products succeed at the next level and looks to do so himself come fall of 2021 with the Maine Blackbears.
Mckenzie, a linebacker, signed with the University of Maine in late 2020 for NCAA’s early signing day and himself alongside his other teammates at Clearwater Academy International put a dent in history having 10 players sign to Division 1 programs. For himself to get to this point, like his 9 teammates who had also signed to Division 1 programs, a lot had to go in and it took a lot of work, though he always knew what he wanted the end result to be. “I always wanted to play at a high level,” said Mckenzie, “Football was always something fun I could do and I started playing because it was fun but when I got more into it I knew what I wanted to do and that was to be the best player I could be and do it at a high level.” It started out as a dream, like it does for many but it didn’t take long for it to be reachable. After playing football for a few years, at the age of 11 Darius began his training with Victor Tedondo of Gridiron Academy in Orleans, Ontario. Tedondo has a history of helping players get to the next level, having a number of players at both the CIS and NCAA division one level as well as a few professional athletes, one being Eli Ankou of the Dallas Cowboys. When talking about training with Gridiron Academy and seeing players go to the next level Mckenzie pointed out, “It was great. He (Victor Tedondo) helped me a lot, I improved a lot because of the training I did with him and seeing that he got guys to the next level already helped give me a reason to keep going back and working.” On Victor Tedondo’s side of the story he also had commented, “He is all business. Darius is a very mature kid and he had a good progression from training with Gridiron Academy, he knows what he wants to accomplish moving forward.”
Getting better, in the city of Ottawa Mckenzie jumped on every opportunity that came to him to play football, playing football for the Orleans Bengals, Cumberland Panthers, South Gloucester Raiders, Myers Riders, and the North Gloucester Giants all spaced out from 2010 to 2018. The majority of the teams he played for were just for the local youth league in Ottawa, NCAFA which is a league where a lot of players start to play football in and start to grow as football players and when Darius Mckenzie had grown as a football player he explored other opportunities within the game of football. Doing so, he expanded and played in an Ontario wide league, OVFL with the Myers Riders. He only did so for the 2017 season, though in that season alone he was able to see more of what talent was like outside of Ottawa and he improved heavily as a football player from that moment on. Sticking to NCAFA in Ottawa for the 2018 season, Mckenzie had if not the best season you can ask for from a linebacker. In 11 games played with the North Gloucester Giants he tallied 146 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 15 sacks as well as 7 forced fumbles. Having a nose for the ball and making a play every single play he was out there for he ended up winning the team’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was later granted opportunities to further his football career.
For the most part, if you play division one football from Ottawa or from Canada in general you likely went to a prep school in the states to make your name known across the border, and like he did with players in the past Vic Tedondo of Gridiron Academy helped Mckenzie get onto Western Reserve Academy for the 2019 football season. The prep school in Hudson, Ohio was Darius’ home for 2019 and while there he was able to make a name for himself, being named the team’s defensive player of the year with 82 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7 forced fumbles and playing on the offensive side of the ball and totalling some recoveries together he had a total 13 touchdowns on 1,426 all-purpose yards. There is no arguing that Mckenzie, standing at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds was a huge asset for the school’s football team in 2019 and when talking about the first season spent across the border he says himself, “It was a great experience. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity given to me where I can play there and while I was there I think I improved as a player and it only got me better for the next season.” The next season though, to be in a better spot recruiting wise, Darius Mckenzie transferred to Clearwater Academy International in Florida.
For the Clearwater Academy Knights, Mckenzie brought everything with him to be the best player of his ability and he did exactly that. At Clearwater, Mckenzie played alongside Edwin Wilson Tara Kolenge, the number one player in Canada in his age group and the 205th on the ESPN 300 list, they made up of a strong linebacking group and the defense was equally as strong, having a number of future division one athletes on the team, some of them from Ottawa. From Ottawa, like Mckenzie there was defensive backs Nathan Casimir, Shakespeare Louis, defensive lineman Ebenezer Dibula as well as wide receiver Alex Vilain and coach Jean Guillaume. When talking about the great group of Ottawa and Canadian players that Clearwater has, Sports Illustrated All American writer John Garcia said, “The secret is out. CAI have been getting a lot of great players from Canada and Ottawa has had a good group of players come down and succeed. Jean (Guillaume) has a big impact on that and it’s only going up from here. Canada is paving the way for international athletes.”
Of course the group was powerful and helped the team play good week in week out, though setting Mckenzie aside as an individual he did a lot for the Knights’ defense. As he looked over the film that Mckenzie had from the 2020 season, CFL linebacker and University of Maine alumni Christophe Mulumba said to me, “I like his athleticism.” and continued, “This is a player that shows he can play anywhere on the front seven and he will be good at the next level. He is a linebacker, but he is a very good blitzer and has played some defensive line already and been good on the edge.” In a longer description Mulumba also said that Darius Mckenzie would “do a lot at the next level” and he believes that a good way of using him would be, “having him at linebacker for first and second down and then as a pass rusher on third down.” as he said, “That would be something that I could see the Maine coaches doing with him, but no matter how they play him he is a great tackler and will be a good player for them.”
Though he was saying all of this while watching Mckenzie’s highlight tape, this wasn’t the first time he’d seen Darius Mckenzie play, “I’ve watched his highlight before he signed to Maine, one of my old coaches sent it to me to look over… I’m proud to see it(another Canadian at Maine). I was probably one of the first Canadians they had at the school and now to see where they are now, having Katley (Joseph), (Liam) Dobson and now bringing in more guys its good to see. They’ve obviously had success with the Canadians they’ve had so I can see why they keep coming back to them.” Mckenzie will be going to Maine for the 2021 fall season, following their spring season in March which replaces the missed 2020 season. Signing with the Blackbears though, Mckenzie also had offers from other division one schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, Campbell University, Howard University, Colgate University and of course Maine University. With him going to Maine University, he will be able to showcase his skills at the next level and that brings a lot of excitement to the media, especially for John Garcia of Sports Illustrated, “Darius Mckenzie is a player to be excited about if you’re Maine. He is a great player and was a great player for CAI this past year, playing linebacker and defensive end but also going on the offensive side of the ball and doing a lot on special teams.” he said, “Its important at the next level to have ball skills and we saw that with Mckenzie with Clearwater where he went on the offense and took in a role on special teams, he is comfortable with the ball in his hands and he can catch as well so if he can learn the fundamentals he may be able to use his raw abilities to go into coverage as well.”
If Mckenzie were to learn the fundamentals and take on a role to go into coverage at the next level with the Maine Blackbears he can be a very good player for them because of what else he can do and he is a player to keep all eyes on at the next level.
Mckenzie will travel to Maine in the fall and will play his freshman season with the University hopefully in 2021 following the team’s spring season in March. He will be one of three Ottawa natives at the school playing for the Blackbears, on the defensive side of the ball he will be playing with St Matthew’s alumni Katley Joseph and coming with him to Maine is Antonio Corsi at Tight End. When talking about the upcoming opportunity and the familiarity within it he said in a conversation with myself, “I’m excited. I train with Antonio Corsi so going there with him will be fun but all around this has been something I’ve been dreaming of since I started playing so it’ll be a great experience to go there and I want to be able to prove myself there and show everybody what I’m about as a player.” Proving himself at Maine is something he will look to do so keep all eyes on Darius Mckenzie at the next level, while he shows why he is one of the best defensive players from the city of Ottawa.