ATHENS - It's always important to be careful with praise this time of year. College football has seen many a spring sensation who barely ends up playing.
Still, when the praise is directed at Isaiah McKenzie, it's worth taking notice.
McKenzie, nicknamed the Human Joystick coming out of high school, proved himself as a return specialist last year, returning two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns as a Georgia freshman. But he wasn't used much as a receiver, hauling in just seven passes for 78 yards, 49 of them coming on one catch, against Troy. His 5-foot-8, 164-pound frame didn't make him an easy target.
Then McKenzie was kept home from Georgia's bowl win against Louisville, for what head coach Mark Richt indicated were academic reasons. That, and the coming influx of highly-regarded receivers, could justifiably lower expectations for McKenzie on offense in 2015.
But more than halfway through spring practice, McKenzie is drawing raves for his receiving abilities. The latest to offer up praise was defensive back Devin Bowman, a fourth-year junior, who cited McKenzie when asked who on offense was most impressing him.
“He’s working us hard,” Bowman said. ”When we go 11-on-11 or pad (skeleton drills), he really gets after it. So he’s keeping us on our toes.”
And McKenzie was doing it with more than just his speed, Bowman added.
“Being physical. Blocking. Routes. Not stopping after the play," Bowman said. "Just things like that.”
McKenzie was credited with three catches for 43 yards in Georgia's first scrimmage. That's not overly prolific, but afterwards Richt went very in-depth on why McKenzie can be a legitimate receiving threat, and not just a specialty option.
"He's more than just a guy that you throw a little bubble to, or you hand him a speed sweep," Richt said. "Because a lot of those guys that are smaller in stature, jitter-bug speed guys, you kind of manufacture ways to get them the ball, and they're not necessarily a legitimate down-the-field receiver. But he is. He's a legitimate - and when I say down-the-field I mean all the routes: The slants, and the curls, and the outs, and the flags, and the posts, and the take-offs, and the dig routes. He's a versatile receiver.
"He's just not very tall. I mean, bottom line. But he's fast and quick, he's got good hands. He's tough."
Richt stopped with the gushing there, then added:
"I don't want to brag too much on you, Isaiah, because I want you to keep doing good."