Finding Fan Favorites: Linebacker Devon Kennard is an exemplary role model
Ethan Inman 10th Mar 2022
Every USC fan should take pride in Devon Kennard.
Kennard has quietly been one of the best athletes — and people — that the Trojan Family can claim as one of their own. Quietly is the key word though — Kennard gets less recognition than other USC alumni. So why has a hero fallen below our gaze?
He is a decorated football player, a successful academic and one of the NFL’s most generous philanthropists. He exemplifies what it means to be a Trojan, overcoming physical challenges with a fighting spirit, winning attitude and a heart that gives back.
Trojan fans should know. They have witnessed his excellence since he was the second-best high school prospect to come to the Trojans in 2009. His career at USC had an exciting first season, when he made the Pac-10 All-Freshman first team and won USC’s John McKay award, given to the underclassman with the most competitive spirit.
His next two seasons were productive, but he sat out the 2012 season with an injury. Yet, instead of allowing himself to be discouraged by his injury, Kennard saw an opportunity to redshirt that season and retain a year of football eligibility.
He returned to the team in 2013 – his best season yet – and finished the season on the All-Pac-12 second team in a bowl-winning season.
He went on to complete his master’s degree in communication management with a focus in business management.
It would be logical to assume Kennard was a top prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft considering the resume he built in school, and indeed, scouts were impressed by his intangible leadership and professionalism.
However, they were concerned by his physical attributes, namely his lack of explosiveness and body length and injury history. He fell to the fifth round, where he was drafted 174th overall by the New York Giants.
Football is certainly a contact sport where physical gifts can be advantageous, but the physical nature of the sport can cause scouts to overlook an athlete’s attitude, which usually turns out to be even more important.
Kennard’s character has carried him to successes no one thought he could have achieved. He immediately outplayed the scouts’ projection that he would be on the bench or practice squad, becoming a starter before the end of his rookie season. He continued to start his entire Giants career, through the 2017 season.
He signed with the Detroit Lions in 2018, and was immediately voted team captain by his new teammates. He remained team captain in 2019 and was even his team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee, an award that recognizes one player from each team every season who teammates believe is most exemplary in their off-the-field charity work.
During his time in Detroit, he created the Devon Kennard Scholarship Fund for underserved youth in association with the Midnight Golf Program, was instrumental in the launch of the Lions’ social justice initiative Detroit Lions Inspire Change and volunteered at the “Hogs and Dawgs” Lineman Academy.
Kennard has enjoyed a career of success while being a role model, and his master’s degree has led to a second career in real estate investing.
He’s a USC football great on and off the field.
However, you won’t find Kennard on lists of the top 10 USC athletes or even the top 50 USC football players of all time. So, again, why isn’t he a household name when his career is so remarkable?
Kennard has been a star his whole NFL career, but for subpar franchises who have endured several losing seasons. It’s difficult to recognize individual greatness in an unremarkable group. In addition, Kennard has always dealt with injuries, but a few absences shouldn’t make it difficult to appreciate his play when he is healthy.
It is especially hard to understand why his name isn’t mentioned among the greats of USC when his character should stand out among so many other USC athletic alumni who were infamous for difficult demeanors or allegations of immoral behavior. So, the question becomes rhetorical. Why isn’t Kennard one of our heroes?
Kennard, being a person of character, is probably content with flying under the radar, but humble people are exactly the kind of people who should be celebrated.
Maybe 2022 will be the year Kennard’s greatness is fully recognized.
He is playing in his home state with the Arizona Cardinals; he has an opportunity to be a leader on a young, exciting team that could make a deep playoff run and most importantly, he’s in a prove-it year. His contract expires after this season, so he needs to play at a high level to entice the Cardinals or another team to sign him in 2023.
Luckily, Kennard has been showing since 2013 that he’s at his best when he has something to prove.
It’s yet another admirable trait of his.