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An Indomitable Gift & Grit: Behind the Gridiron With Coach Ryan Mckenzie & Amarius Mims

Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo MESPORTS SOUTH

Follow her on Twitter @Misskyus2011

COCHRAN, GA- One’s journey is never how we intend it to be in fact more times than none life decides to knock us down and blindside us. Will you choose to throw in the towel or will you choose to fight through a little adversity and find a way to win? 

The past months now talk about being blindsided in more ways than one on this gridiron of life. In a few short months each of our game plans and playbooks  pretty much got thrown out the window. Now during this extended halftime as I like to refer to it as we must learn to adapt, adjust so we can persevere to keep things alive. 

 But the reality is things will get tougher before they get easier but when we choose to fight and use our ability to change our surroundings but not be changed because of our  circumstances, what a powerful force we can become.

It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to write about high school football recruiting. It certainly has changed but I think this season might be the most interesting yet especially for some of the nations top prospects. 

While football has gradually been able to make its return on all levels there are still so many questions of what it really will shape into this Fall.   Especially with politics, protests, and the pandemic at the forefront of sports headlines these days. In spite of the uncertainty of what tomorrow may bring or may not bring in some cases. There are still so many kids and coaches who are determined to make the best of what cards they are dealt with or without a season. 

Tonight, down in Cochran, Georgia the Bleckley Co. high school football team will be one of the teams that for now gets to play under some Friday night lights. For many  of these young men and coaches this season will take on a whole different meaning and approach that I believe will change the way recruiting and more will be done down the road. 

For some of these kids it will be their last chapter of their football career, while others it’s another gift to create opportunities for their future endeavors. There is so much talent out there I always find myself under difficult circumstances trying to narrow down the kids whose journeys I share and get to write about. However, while the ones I do couldn’t be on more different paths one thing I have found in each of them is this indomitable GRIT.

As Sarah Lewis put it, Grit is not just a simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest and do it again and again.” 

Amarius Mims is a name you can’t help but hear about when it comes to the 2021 recruiting cycle.  The 5-star recruit and the #2 OT in the nation as ranked by may already have narrowed down his top schools which include Alabama, Georgia, Auburn,FSU,and Tennessee

e. He  will start his senior season with more security knowing he will play at the next level. However, even with this he knows how vital it will be to play not just for himself for his team.

Big Mims or Mimsy as he is known by his teammates is one heck of a rarity on and off the field. You can’t help but take notice of his towering 6’8” 320 LB build when he is your presence. As an OT he is part of  an elite and rare breed that every coach dreams of being able to develop and have on their roster. Mims has all the makings to be great.  With the elite combo of size and length, his long arms, big hands and build are just some of the tangibles he already possesses with more room and more room to physically develop into a nasty OT. Any defensive front would be shaking in their cleats to have to face a kid like this. Not only is he a skilled OT but DE as well.  I  can stand up on that sports soapbox  of mine and go on and on to list this kid’s abilities and accolades  but that wouldn’t do him justice.

But to be a top prospect is one thing but to become an elite one is more than just being born with physical attributes or looking good on a stat sheet. Instead it takes that GRIT and that is not something you can easily come across and that it has and will be the ultimate X-Factor in his career at the next level and in life.

I am glad to be able to share this edition of Behind the Gridiron with the Royals offensive coordinator & offensive line Coach, Ryan Mckenzie &  Amarius Mims.

Behind the Gridiron Coach Mckenzie

Coach Mckenzie is entering his second season as the Royals OC & OL coach after 7 years of coaching high school football in  Georgia. Mckenzie is no stranger to developing some of the nations top football prospecting coming out of the south like Amarius.  He has coached All-American Roquan Smith, Army All-American & 4-star prospect D’Ante Demery, Warren McClendon UGA Signee 4-star Prospect, Christian Meadows FSU signee and 4-star prospect, Deontrey Hill UGA and of course  Amarius Mims consensus No. 6 senior recruit nationally, No. 2 offensive tackle, No. 2 play in Georgia, five star recruit and AJC Super11 pick.  

Coach McKenzie hails from Montezuma, GA.  He played at Macon County High School and went on to play college football at Mesabi Range Community College (Virginia, MN) and The University of Charleston (Charleston, WV).

What is your coaching philosophy?

We will instill an EMPTY THE BUCKET mentality daily. With everything we do we want to do it with effort and passion. We must deposit maximum effort into our dreams, to turn them into a reality.  and the B.A.M mentality with everything we do daily on and off the field B.A.M stands for becoming a better man. We want to be the best version of ourselves to represent God, Family, and Our Football Team and School. 

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a coach during this time to keep your players and program thriving even in a pandemic?

The biggest challenge for me as a coach during this time is just getting to be with our kids as a whole group consistently. We worked hard as a coaching staff during the pandemic to zoom call, facetime, make workouts, have team meetings, staff meetings, bring in guest speakers, and stayed connected. That was the easy part for us, the hard part is working hard and trying to get to Friday night as a whole unit and play the game we all love and respect. 

From a coach’s point of view why do you believe we need to allow football to be played this Fall?

From a coach’s perspective, I do believe we need the game of football as long as the student athlete’s health remains safe. I think if numbers spike, then we need to do what best for everybody and not just think about a game. Lives are at stake here and I would not be able to live with myself knowing I contributed to the loss of someone’s son and it could have been prevented. 

What is your best advice for HS athletes who may not get to play football this season to keep on the radar?

I would tell a senior that has had their senior year removed from them, but still aspires to play, make sure you stay committed to your process. If you have one offer, no offer, or thirty offers. Understand that life is a gift and a curse at times, but we will never retreat from adversity, we stand boldly at what faces us and we will keep fighting the good fight to finish the race. Reach out to schools to see if they accept walk on’s, then go bet on yourself and compete to show you belong there and they made a mistake by not offering you. If you hold an offer, pick what school works best for you and go compete daily. We all must stay committed to controlling the things we can. 

Amarius is a special kid and athlete. What has been the attribute you think has developed him into the force he has become?

For Amarius, I think his combination of size, strength, and pure athleticism has made him the force he is today. Of course, we all see the measurables, but in no way should he be as flexible and move as fast as he can on any given snap of the ball. This is what I believe separates him from the rest of the players in the country. 

What has been your key focus on how to keep a top athlete like Amarius continuing to be able to grow and building on his athletic ability?

For us we have a great program that is run from top to bottom. Our program is operating as a college style program, so everyday he is being pushed and challenged daily. From our Strength and Conditioning coach Stacy Nobles and how he has the ability to take his body, break it down and build him back up. From there we go to meetings and we make sure to focus on the little detail parts of his game. Foot work, hand placement, ball get off, pass protection punch, and finishing blocks. We then go to practice and I challenge him to be a better leader on the field mentally, to help our team to a victory daily. 

What are the words you live by and you share with your team for inspiration?

The words that I live by that I echo everyday is “My Everything or My Nothing”, a slogan that I got from Georgia Tech Team Chaplain Moore. He really inspired me to give everything I have to everything I do and I make the guys circle up on Friday nights and recite his speech together before we take the field. 

What song are you listening to right now that gets you in-game mode?

I’m a Music so this is a hard one for me, because I love Music. Hmm what gets me in game mode is “Made if from Nothing” Meek Mill, Rick Ross, Teyana Taylor

Behind The Gridiron Amarius Mims

What has been your biggest motivation even with all the obstacles of training in a pandemic?

My biggest motivation is me knowing I’m about to make a lifetime decision that can change the course of my life and my family as well in four years. I try to keep that  in the back of my mind as I trained during the pandemic and as we practice now and try to get ready for the season.

What is your get hype song right now?

I would have to say it is, WE paid : by lil baby. That really gets me going and ready to compete at a high level. 

What has been your biggest personal obstacle during this time?

My biggest personal obstacle right now is stressing for a season for my teammates. In Cochran, GA, we need football for a host of reasons, but I worry more for my teammates that need another opportunity to be seen by college coaches to have an opportunity like myself and allow the game of football to continue to provide life lessons and learning experiences for us. I stress because I want to help them reach that goal more than anything. 

For those kids out there looking to be on the radar and become a top prospect what would you tell them is the key to getting there?

I would say the key to it all is hard work, dedication, and commitment. I’ve had a bit of adversity in my life. I tore my ACL early my freshman year, I moved from Tightend to Offensive Tackle, Switched Coaches, Broke My wrist before my first playoff game, and so much more. I said all those to say, don’t focus on rankings, positions, stars, or camp invites, allow your work to speak for yourself. Go hard in practice and work to get better daily and allow you film to speak for yourself. Yes, I’m 6’8 320, but I walk in the room with the hardest working guy mentality daily and that’s what got my ranking up from top 50’s to where I am today. Trust your process. 

What do you think sets you apart from most top offensive prospects?

I think what sets me apart from other top tackles, is my frame, height, length, and my ability to move in space as well as I can.

In a few short months, you are set to make your college commitment. What will play this biggest factors in your final choice? 

Right now, in dealing with COVID-19, my officials are cancelled, going to games on invites to see coaches interact with players is probably over for the year, if they are playing, and having them come to school and talk more with me or have a home visit is off the table too. So, I think the only factor that’s important right now is relationships with the coaches through communicating via conversations over the phone or text messages. I have to be able to have formed a relationship with the coaching staff. 

If your top five schools are not able to complete or have a full season will that have any influence on re-open your college choices? 

Definitely. I believe that is a possibility, because we do not know how things can shake out this year. I definitely would keep my options open. I have developed bonds with coaches and players and we never know how a conversation can lead to a different choice, coaches’ stance on social injustice issues, natural disasters impacting the area I was considering, or me just simply wanting to take more time to think about my choice. 

From a player’s point of view, why do you think it is important to be able to have a high school football season?

I think it’s important because these are times in our lives that we can’t relive and get back. As I stated earlier, I have teammates that need a season to help them earn a scholarship to better themselves. 

Tonight, Coach Mckenzie and Amarius along with their football family will finally return home to the place that truly has felt the blood, sweat and tears that only these athletes have known during their time. No one knows if this will be the first of many game days or the last. However, that will not be the focus instead this fraternity will continue to elevate and change their surroundings for the love of the game and a the gift of indomitable grit.

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