August 31, 2011

Mackey excited for opener

Defensive end Leon Mackey's dream to play college football will finally be recognized Saturday around 6 p.m. when he lines up against the Texas State offense.

Even though the Bobcats seem to be one of the lesser teams on the Red Raiders' schedule, it should be the toughest competition Mackey, a junior college transfer, has faced in a game setting up to that point in time. Additionally, there should be more than 55,000 watching him inside Jones AT&T Stadium.

Mackey will finally accomplish his goal of playing in a Division I game after two years of junior college and a year before that of prep school at Hargrave Military Academy where he was coached by now-Texas Tech defensive line coach Robert Prunty.

"I took some detours in my life," Mackey said. "But as coach P always has told me - If you go through life without facing roadblocks or obstacles, you're heading for failure down the line."

The 6-foot-5, 256-pund defensive end is entering just his fifth season of playing organized football. Mackey didn't start playing until his sophomore year at Christina High School in Delaware but has developed himself to a point Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville can see Mackey playing professional football after college.

And Mackey did it without the advantages of Division I coaches or facilities. He came close a few times though.

Mackey committed to Virginia Tech in high school but things didn't pan out. Later, he signed with South Carolina but had to attend junior college and chose to play his first two NCAA seasons at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss.

Finally, Mackey made his way to Tech where he will gets Division I coaching and facilities.

Arguably more importantly, Mackey will get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He certainly took the long road but Saturday should serve as a reminder that perseverance pays off and there's even more to accomplish.

"I'm so excited it doesn't even amount to words," Mackey said when asked about what the first game will feel like for him. "I just try to stay as calm as possible. People here, players that are here like my roommate Scott Smith just help me stay cool. I know it's a process and I trust in the process.

"When I'm on the field all that matters is my teammates and the ball. When the ball moves, I go play football from game one to game 13."

Mackey is listed as the starting right left end for the Texas State game but didn't have much of a reaction to it.

"I believe as a defense we work together," he said. "There's No. 1, No. 2, and you're going to get the same amount of work as No. 2 so it's really nothing like 'oh I'm No. 1.' I just look at it like on this day I was chosen as No. 1 and that can change any day. I approach it as humbly as I can. Jackson Richards gets sacks on the same dude that I get sacks on.

"We all encourage each other. We don't look at it as No. 1 or No. 2. We look at it as whoever lines up against us they're going to have to work because we practice hard."

Talking about being a Red Raider provokes a reaction from Mackey. Even if he can't find the words to describe it.

"I really just thank God for everything," he said. "I don't really know what to say about me being here. I'm just happy being here, working here and getting better here."

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