Abilene Christian lists Parker McKenzie at 5-11, which in football parlance means the redshirt junior quarterback stands closer to 5-10.
Quarterbacks of McKenzie’s stature typically rely on a high release point to direct throws above opposing linemen. Drew Brees is the most successful example, delivering the ball near the height of his throwing motion and also delivering the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl title in 2009.
“I have more of a three-quarters release point. I don’t know how I don’t get more balls tipped, but it works out,” said McKenzie. The Spring Branch, Texas, native’s statement is modest in light of the 3,084 yards and 22 touchdowns he passed for last year.
Coming into college the right-hander received NAIA offers, as well as interest from all three Abilene Schools: Hardin-Simmons, McMurry University and ACU. Last year he clearly proved his Division I ability; this year he has struggled at times protecting the ball and is periodically spelled by redshirt freshman Dallas Sealey.
McKenzie will guide the 2-4 Wildcats into San Antonio to face the Incarnate Word Cardinals (3-3, 2-2 Southland Conference). The game was postponed from Saturday to Sunday at 3 p.m. ET because of historic rainfall and potential flooding in San Antonio.
The sight of the Cardinals across the line from McKenzie will spark memories of one of the best collegiate performances of his career and a signature victory in the Abilene Christian program.
As a redshirt sophomore last year, he lit up the skies above Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium with 329 yards passing and two touchdown en route to a 21-0 Wildcat victory. McKenzie is looking to repeat that performance this year, although it will have to be on the road at San Antonio, where the Cardinals are 3-0.
In the same contest last year, redshirt freshman linebacker Sam Denmark had two interceptions for the Wildcats. One of Denmark’s picks came within Abilene Christian’s own 10-yard line and helped preserve the shutout and the win. It heralded Denmark’s arrival as a defensive presence in the Southland Conference. He currently leads the league with 83 tackles, 17 ahead of Cardinals outside linebacker Myke Tavarres, who is second in the Southland.
During the week, it’s Denmark who hones McKenzie’s ability to target holes between outstretched defenders’ arms when he faces him in practice.
“I practice against Sam every day so I know him quite well. He has a knack for finding the passing lanes, I’ll put it that way. Overall, he’s just a great leader. He loves football and he gets everybody fired up around him,” said McKenzie.
The win last year was the first victory in the Southland Conference for the Wildcats since rejoining the league at the Division I level in 2013. ACU was an original member of the conference when it was founded in 1963, before departing for the Division II Lone Star Conference following the 1972 season. The Wildcats’ program is one of Texas’s most storied, with roots extending back to 1919 and a string of championships and bowl victories included in its extended lineage.
McKenzie is looking to build on another tradition, that of the pocket passer. “I prefer staying in the pocket. I know 5-11 quarterbacks like to run, but I prefer sitting back and throwing,” he said. The analogy, historically, is a good one. Back when Abilene Christian was racking up wins in the Lone Star Conference in the mid-1970s, Pat Haden — the 5-11 quarterback of Southern Cal — was leading the Trojans to Rose Bowl victories and national championships while delivering from the pocket.
When flushed out, McKenzie brings another advantage that righty quarterbacks rarely prefer: rolling left. Moving left forces McKenzie to square his shoulders to bring the ball into a “loaded” position, unlike rolling right when the ball is already back at the trigger point. As a result, a quarterback moving in the direction of his dominant hand will often overthrow a receiver as he fails to set his feet.
ACU will also get the football in the hands of running back De’Andre Brown. The redshirt sophomore leads the team in rushing with 428 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Last year he was named second-team All-Southland.
“When he finds a hole, he just bursts through and can go a long way,” McKenzie said of Brown.
The Wildcats typically rely on the pass 55%-60% of the time. This year, the number has hovered more closely to 60% as they’ve been forced to pass when trailing. On Sunday they will strive for a better run/pass mix and have their prior win against IUW to draw inspiration from.
“Last year we were able to be balanced with our offense and our defense shut them out last year. That was awesome,” said McKenzie.
When asked about being part of the tradition of ACU football, the quarterback prefers to look forward.
“We feel we’re the stepping stone into something new,” he said. “We’re Division I in the Southland and we’re the guys that are getting this thing going. We’re going to win a few more the rest of the way this year.”
They hope to begin in San Antonio.
Above: Parker McKenzie has pass for tall numbers last season: 3,084 yards and 22 touchdowns. (Courtesy of Jeremy Enlow/ACU Athletics)