In the midst of the second quarter of the 2018-2019 NFL season, some teams are beginning to determine if their season will end highlighted by a playoff berth or a lottery pick. Former Heritage alumni running back Sony Michel and New England Patriots’ leading rusher sits atop his division, the AFC East, with the Patriots holding a record of 4-2 as they are hopeful to return to the playoffs and Super Bowl, after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in last year’s championship game. Fellow Heritage alumni, and Michel’s high school and college teammate at Georgia, Isaiah McKenzie and the 3-4 Denver Broncos sit third in their division, the AFC West, as they are coming off a dominant performance against the Arizona Cardinals on ‘Thursday Night Football.’ The Broncos are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional game.
Though he showed flashes of dominance in the early slate of the season, Michel got off to a slow start, mostly due to a lack of carries. However, the Patriots first round pick has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games, reaching 98 yards in the game in which he didn’t break 100.
Michel’s breakout game came ironically against his hometown team during the third week of the NFL season, the 3-0 Miami Dolphins, where he earned career highs and rushed for 112 yards over the course of 25 carries, topping it off with his first rushing touchdown of his young rookie season to hand the Dolphins their first loss 38-7.
Michel’s hot streak continued the very next week as the New England Patriots played host to the Indianapolis Colts on ‘Thursday Night Football.’ Michel ran for 98 yards on just 18 carries, adding a score along the way to help secure the win on national television.
Last week against the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots fed Michel the ball 24 times as he broke loose for 106 yards, finding the end zone twice, marking a career high and helping to defeat the lossless Chiefs. Week 7 featured a head-to-head matchup between the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots as Michel, whose status for the game was questionable, was able to suit up and play. Unfortunately, Michel suffered an injury in the second quarter to his left knee and was carted off the field. The gruesome injury occurred after Michel was awkwardly twisted to the ground as a Bears’ defender landed on his leg. He was ruled out for the game after rushing for 22 yards on four attempts. Michel’s availability for next week’s matchup against the Buffalo Bills is currently in question as well as his status for future games.
Other former Heritage star alumni, Isaiah McKenzie of the Denver Broncos, dubbed “The Human Joystick,” has not experienced the same success in his rookie season compared to fellow former alumni Michel. After being cut and then resigned to the practice squad by Denver, the Broncos fifth-round selection of this year’s draft has been seen to line up both at the wide receiver and running back position throughout the preseason. In the receiving game, McKenzie has seen 13 targets, hauling in four and converting for 29 yards. On the flip side, his time as a running back has been limited to one attempt, which he took for a four-yard gain. His most successful plays, however, have come as a return specialist for the Broncos, as he has compiled a total of 183 yards returning kicks and punts thus far. In the preseason matchup earlier this year against the Minnesota Vikings, McKenzie seized an opportunity to reach the end zone, returning to 78 plus yard punt to the house.
As the second half of the young football season approaches, it is important to remember that former Heritage stars Michel and McKenzie are now merely rookies who must earn their stripes to survive in the NFL.