Sony Michel says he’s pretty good at returning kickoffs. Trouble is, he has always attended school with a friend nicknamed “Joystick” because he does it so well.
That’d be fellow sophomore Isaiah McKenzie, who also attended American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Michel was setting rushing records there in high school. McKenzie tied two Georgia records last year by returning three kicks for touchdowns last season, including two punts.
“That’s his thing,” Michel said of his close friend. “I just have to call him out to keep him on top of his game, because I know he’s the kick-return guru.”
Michel was back deep for kickoff returns in the Bulldogs’ opener against Louisiana-Monroe this past weekend, while McKenzie was not. McKenzie was coming off a hamstring injury, so Georgia didn’t want to take a chance of him aggravating it.
Michel did not get a chance to return one Saturday as the Warhawks kicked away from him. No doubt they had seen Michel’s touchdown return against Louisville in the Belk Bowl. It was nullified due to penalty, but Michel’s special wares were on full display before being undone by the yellow hankerchief.
McKenzie was suspended for the bowl game and wasn’t in Charlotte. But Michel heard from him immediately after the return.
“He called me and said ‘it took you 15 seconds to get down there,’” Michel said, laughing.
Michel’s opportunities were limited last year because of injuries and McKenzie’s presence. Missing five games with a shoulder injury, he returned just two for a total of 37 yards.
Make no mistake about it: Michel and McKenzie are friends. But kick returns are a competitive endeavor for them.
McKenzie was primarily a punt returner for the Bulldogs last season, but he fielded 11 kickoffs for 309 yards in returns, including a 90-yard score against Kentucky.
This year, Michel was excited about getting tabbed again for the job. He hopes to bring the same dynamic to the duty that Todd Gurley did last year. Gurley had a kickoff return for touchdown against Clemson and had another nullified by penalty against Auburn.
“You watch Todd do things like that and you want to go out there and do the same thing,” said Michel, who watched Gurley take it to the house twice.
And, once McKenzie’s hamstring heals sufficiently, it’s anticipated that the two South Florida natives will be back there together. But don’t expect the two buddies to be exchanging notes.
“I don’t ask his advice,” Michel said. “It’s a competitive thing. He just goes off what he knows, I go off what I know. He knows enough to get to the end zone.”