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Auburn tight end Gabe McKenzie (83) grabs a pass in the fourth quarter in the Tigers' 23-13 win over Kansas State in Auburn on Saturday.
AP photo by Dave Martin
Auburn tight end Gabe McKenzie (83) grabs a pass in the fourth quarter in the Tigers' 23-13 win over Kansas State in Auburn on Saturday.

McKenzie relishes his playing time, making TD catch

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

AUBURN — Tight end Gabe McKenzie knew as soon as he blew past Kansas State's linebacker that he would be all alone in the back of the end zone for the game's go-ahead score Saturday night.

"When (Kansas State) gets to the goal line, the only thing they do is watch for the run," McKenzie said. "They leave the tight end open."

And he was.

McKenzie fired off the line of scrimmage and headed toward the left corner of the end zone straight at the Auburn student section, while Wildcats defenders bit on the fake to run the ball.

McKenzie waited 7 yards behind the goal line for Brandon Cox's pass. He hauled the ball in with 2:11 left to give Auburn a 16-13 lead over K-State, which eventually turned into a 23-13 win.

"I knew I was in the back of the end zone by myself, and I was ready to make the play," the redshirt sophomore said.

Of Auburn's three tight ends, McKenzie has long been characterized as the blocker, but after Saturday's four catches and 42 yards that perspective may soon change.

Fellow tight ends Tommy Trott and Cole Bennett combined for only one catch.

It was McKenzie who was the featured guy.

And he doesn't have a problem with that at all. Like most players, McKenzie wants the ball but knows as a tight end he has another duty.

"Any player is going to say 'give me the ball,' " he said. "Basically, you're looking for whatever you get. You get six (catches) or you get five (catches) or you get none. I'm going to block all night if I'm called to do. That's how you got to be."

After an injury to starter Bennett in the third game of last season, redshirt freshmen McKenzie and Trott filled the senior's spot, alternating at the position. McKenzie played in all 13 games, catching 13 passes for 137 yards.

Until Saturday night, his best performance came against Mississippi State last season when he grabbed four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Yes, those are the exact same figures he tallied Saturday.

But to McKenzie, the games were not identical at all. He spent little time thinking about which was better.

"I think it's this one. More clutch," he said Sunday.

The 6-foot-4, 249-pound Mobile native definitely came through when it counted. Standing in the end zone all alone, McKenzie snatched Cox's pass from the air, making sure to keep at least one foot in bounds as his momentum carried him through the end zone.

"It's just like practice," he said. "You look the ball all the way in."

But that wasn't always the case. It took McKenzie time to get accustomed to the speed of college football when he arrived in Auburn in 2005.

"The ball was so much faster. I missed the ball so easily," he said.

"I learned you look the ball in. You focus. Everything slows down."

South Florida at Auburn

Saturday 8 p.m.
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