Reggie McKenzie: Giving youths tools for success

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Highland Park — Helping people is nothing new for Reggie McKenzie.

It was a practice his parents ingrained in him as a child, and his efforts have continued throughout adulthood. For more than 46 years, the Reggie McKenzie Foundation has become a neighborhood institution through his renowned summer football and basketball clinics in Highland Park.

McKenzie, 69, had a 13-year NFL career, including an All-Pro selection in the 1973 season with the Buffalo Bills’ “Electric Company” offensive line that helped O.J. Simpson become the first running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a season.

Former Michigan and NFL player Reggie McKenzie at the field named after him in Highland Park, Mich. on Sept. 10, 2019.  McKenzie started the Reggie McKenzie Foundation which offers sports clinics to youth.

After helping Simpson and the Bills, he finished his career with the Seattle Seahawks, then went back to his hometown to make a bigger impact in the community.

“For me, it started when I was growing up," McKenzie said. "I saw people doing things for young people, from a neighborhood to a community perspective. I saw my mother and father involved and I was involved in scouting.

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“Honestly, I thought (helping people) was something that we were supposed to do in the order of things.”

He played football at Highland Park High School and the University of Michigan, under legendary coach Bo Schembechler, where McKenzie was part of the landmark upset of top-ranked Ohio State, the defending national champion, in 1969. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

But McKenzie’s most enduring legacy is his contribution to the community.

Former Michigan and NFL player Reggie McKenzie with some of his bubble gum cards from his NFL days. Photos taken at the Ernest T. Ford Fieldhouse in Highland Park, Mich. on Sept. 10, 2019.

In the 46 years of his football camp — at the field in Highland Park that bears his name — he’s passed on tools for success in academics and athletics to thousands of youths, from ages 8-14. Through the camp, he has influenced many future NFL stars, including Pepper Johnson, Jerome Bettis, Derrick Alexander and Anthony Adams, among dozens of others.

Many of those young men who participated in the camp have come back and paid it forward by joining the coaching staff, an unexpected homage to McKenzie’s sacrifice.

 “What I realized after I got out and started the football camp in 1974 is when you give a young person hope, you’d be amazed at how valuable that is,” he said. “I wish I could tell you how many young men, over the 46 years with football, came back and said, ‘You don’t realize you helped a whole neighborhood with this camp.’”

Name: Reggie McKenzie

Age: 69

Occupation: President, Reggie McKenzie Industrial Materials Inc.

Education: Highland Park High School, University of Michigan

Family: A son, Raymond Kenyon

Why honored: For helping youths become high achievers in school and in their daily lives. Programs focus on strong academics combined with civic responsibility and community service. The result: children, who want to learn, develop skills, formulate strong ethical principles, and become contributing members of society.