June 7, 2019

Mackie Makes The Most Of Unexpected Opportunity

The odds were stacked against Mark Mackie having a pro football career as soon as he became the 67th player chosen in the 2017 CFL Draft.

Very few players drafted that late get a meaningful shot at playing time in the CFL. And it certainly didn’t help that the McMaster Marauders defensive end was selected by a team that intended to use only international players on its defensive line.

Two years later, Mackie, 24, has 13 games of CFL experience under his belt and he’s in the mix to be a utility guy on the Eskimos defensive line, subbing in at either defensive end or defensive tackle when needed.

“I’m making the most of it,” Mackie said. “Not a lot of guys drafted in the eighth round get to come back for a third training camp or even get to think about playing. Every moment out, there is just gravy for me. I’m just enjoying every second of it. I love it.”

Mackie said he tried to “put my best foot forward, put really good stuff on film” during his first Eskimos training camp in 2017. It was “a great learning environment” for him being with veteran players like nose tackle Almondo Sewell and defensive end Odell Willis, who tagged him with the nickname of “Milk Truck.”

After training camp, the six-foot-one, 255-pound Mackie returned to McMaster University in Hamilton for a fifth year of college football with designs on getting bigger, stronger and faster.

“I was always playing defensive end when I was at McMaster,” Mackie said. “Then I had to move inside (to defensive tackle during Eskimos training camp), so not only was the game a lot faster, but everyone was a lot bigger.”

He bulked up to 275 pounds before he returned to Eskimos training camp in 2018 and played at around 285 when he got called back to Edmonton partway into the season.

“The extra year helped a lot,” he said. “I felt a lot more comfortable in that second training camp. I thought I made a lot of really good strides. I thought I had a good camp.”

When he was released at the end of camp, Mackie was “super crushed” but continued to train so he would be as prepared as possible when another opportunity arose. He had to wait three weeks before his phone finally rang.

“A big part of me coming back was that defensive line room,” Mackie said. “When the injuries happened, some of the guys said to Coach (Demetrious) Maxie, ‘Give Mackie a chance to come back.’ If it wasn’t for those guys, I know I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Mackie was excited to return to the Eskimos. Not only was he familiar with the environment and the other D-linemen (even though he said: “I think there were guys who didn’t know what my name was. It was just pretty much ‘Milk Truck.’ ”), but the Esks also rotate the players on the defensive line “so there’s always that chance to get on the field and play.”

“I’ve got to be one of the more versatile guys in the league,” he said. “I came in at 285 (pounds) last year. I said, ‘If I’m going to stick around, I’ve got to play (special teams).’ Throughout that year, I finally got on all four special teams while playing defensive tackle. I can’t think of many guys who can run down and cover a punt and then go in and try to plug the ‘A gap’ on the next series.

“The name of the game for me was being versatile. It’s a limited roster. If you’re going to be on there, you’ve got to be able to do multiple things. So inside, outside, specials, I’ve got to be able to do it all.”

Mackie had a strong performance during his first few CFL games last year but felt that he “stagnated a little bit” as the season wore on after other teams got to see him on game film and figure out how to defend against him.

“I wasn’t happy how I finished the season,” he said. “My big goal this year is to take that next step, to not just be a good practice player or to have a good play once in a while. When I get on the field, I want to be more productive.”

With Kwaku Boateng establishing himself as a starter at defensive end after leading the Eskimos with nine quarterback sacks last year (he has 13 sacks in his first 34 CFL games), there’s a need to have another national defensive lineman available to play when Boateng takes a break to maintain the ratio of national starters.

So Mackie had to slim down this year to around 265-270 pounds, which he says is a good playing weight “to do a little bit of everything.” He had to show during training camp that he was quick enough to play outside at defensive end, but also handle the heavy loads inside at defensive tackle, where he has to make sure he has the right footwork “or things get pretty hairy.”

“I think I’m naturally a good pass-rusher from the inside,” he said, “so they still have me working there a lot. It’s going to be a little bit of both.”

It also feels “a lot better” to run around at his lighter weight, so he thought he did really well on special teams during the two pre-season games.

“When it comes down to choosing the roster or deciding who is going to be on that game-day (roster), I just hope they know I can go in, I can go out, I can do whatever they need,” Mackie said.