You've been through a lot (father died when McKenzie was 9, attended three colleges, left school twice to help family), but through it all you've shown a dedication to your family and made choices based on that. Where did that commitment come from?
I think it goes back to growing up playing football and being around a team atmosphere. I feel that you have two families. You have your family that you were raised with, and you have your family on the (team). Being around my teammates, when I'm on the field, I'm always trying to do right by them, always trying to be accountable to the coaches and to the players that wear the same uniform.
You had some twists in your road, leaving school and working the night shift at one point. What was the hardest part of your road to get here?
I just had to really stay focused and keep pushing. A lot of that stuff was hard, but I never looked back and stayed focused on the future. It's kind of like when you're in the weight room during the offseason. You know you have a couple of months left (before the season), but you still have to push because the outcome is down the road. It's staying focused.
You've talked about being very mature. How fast did you have to grow up after your father passed away?
I matured at an early age. Even now, I'm very mature (for) my age. The things I've been through made me stronger and made me have to grow up at an early age. It's been a blessing from the beginning, going through it. I take it in stride.
Here's one of our weekly questions: What is playing the most on your iPod right now?
My iPod's really diverse. I've got a little bit of Train, (the album) Save Me, San Francisco. I have Lil Wayne, a little bit of T.I. I might throw on a little Katy Perry. She's got a couple hits out there. So, you know, it's diverse. But on game day, it's tough music. Gotta lock in.
What would be the most surprising thing I would find if I was flipping through your iPod?
You might find a little Barry Manilow.
The other weekly question: What website do you visit most?
I'm always on ESPN.com or NFL.com. I first started playing this game out of love for the game. Before I even felt what it felt like to get on the field with a team or be in a team atmosphere, I fell in love with the game. In my first year, when I was 9, I had a good friend and he was playing for the Brandon Broncos football team. I was like, "Man, that's crazy. You guys have helmets and everything. You look like the real thing on TV." I just fell in love with the game. So, when I was 9, I was actually a water boy because my mom wouldn't let me play yet. I was a water boy, and when she saw my dedication to the game, when I was 10, she let me play. Ever since then, I haven't looked back.
Speaking of your youth, you're from here and went to Riverview High. You were a big-time running back with 1,400 yards as a senior. Do you ever miss playing offense?
I loved playing running back. But I love playing linebacker more. When you get in that huddle, you're the quarterback of the defense. … At the same time, you get to fly around and hit people. I'd rather give it than take it.
I'm wondering whether you watched the Bucs much growing up.
I watched the Bucs a lot. Watching the Bucs play actually taught me a lot about playing defense and about this game. Back in the day when this town was crazy for the Bucs, just seeing the achievements of guys like Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson and Ryan Nece and Ronde Barber. I've always been amazed by the organization and how they did things, and now I have a chance to be a part of it. I want to take full pride in that logo on the side of my helmet.
Who would you say was your favorite player?
I loved watching Hardy Nickerson play. And I loved watching Derrick Brooks. I'm a linebacker, so I had to watch the fellow linebackers.
What did you love about Hardy?
It was his overall game. The way he was aggressive, but at the same time, you had a guy like Derrick Brooks with a little bit of finesse. I loved watching guys like that go out there and enjoy the game and fly around and hit people and make plays and get up and celebrate with your teammates. That's a feeling that you can't ever implement in any other game or sport. That's the game of football.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.