Football, family and fortitude

Corey Kennedy comes full circle

By Cassidy Thornburg

This past summer at a baseball park in California some 2,000 miles from Wheaton, I met Andrew Stout, a right-handed pitcher for Concordia University Irvine. When I mentioned Wheaton College, Stout lit up. It turned out he had played high school baseball in Aurora, Ill. with Wheaton safety Corey Kennedy.

Though Stout hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years he praised Kennedy. Shaking his head, Stout told me, “He was one of the hardest workers, especially given his size, and a great person. Corey never put people down and hoped the best for everyone.” Stout’s admiration of Kennedy goes to show the determination the Wheaton football transfer and now senior captain has carried with him into the many places the Lord has led him.

Instead of going to Wheaton College like his older brother, Sean, and his younger sister, Mackenzie, Kennedy attended Northern Illinois University his freshman year.

After redshirting for one season and playing the second, Kennedy transferred to Wheaton as a junior with three years of eligibility.

“I played all 12 games at Northern, but during that time was when I first thought ‘I want to transfer,’” Corey recounted. “It was Dec. 23. A coach told my dad, ‘If he gets his application submitted within a week we could get you there.’ School that year started Jan. 9, so I had to make a decision and just go with it which was crazy.”

Some of us have a hard time choosing what to order at Chick-fil-A, let alone making potential life-altering decisions. Kennedy agreed. “That’s me, too. This is the one spontaneous decision I’ve ever made.”

Kennedy’s willingness to stick with his decision speaks to his resolve. The main factors in his decision-making process included, as he called them, “The Big Three.”

“I think those things just propelled me — football, faith and academics, and then after a couple more talks with Swider, I just thought, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna do this,’” Kennedy said.

It seems simple now, but Kennedy’s decision wasn’t like reciting ABC’s or 1-2- 3’s.

“It was a hard decision.” he said. “Looking back, I would always go to Northern first, but then I would always transfer because I think both experiences have shaped me into who I am.”

When asked about the difference between playing football at the two schools, Kennedy noted, “I just think the guys. When I was at Northern, I kind of lived vicariously through my brother. I would always think about how he was doing at Wheaton, the guys he was surrounded by, the coaching staff he was under and the experience he was having. I saw what was being poured into him.”

Kennedy is grateful to be playing under Coach Swider, and Swider is grateful to have him. “Corey Kennedy is a special athlete and a difference maker in our secondary,” Swider said, alluding to Kennedy’s ability to break up passes and cover the defensive backfield with speed and aggression. So far this season, Kennedy has registered 12 solo tackles. He has picked off two passes, returning one for a 66-yard touchdown.

Kennedy’s family has not missed a tackle and have attended every game this season. His parents live just 30 minutes away, his older brother, Sean, is a teacher at Wheaton North High School, and his sister, Mackenzie, is a senior at Wheaton.

“My parents and I go to every game no matter if it’s away or home,” Mackenzie said. “It’s been that way since Corey and Sean started playing football in kindergarten.”

Mackenzie lives only a couple doors down from her brother in an on-campus house. “When she’s having hard times, I can pick her up, and when I’m struggling, she can pick me up,” Kennedy said of their relationship. “Family meals always help. We go get breakfast or lunch together. Having a person nearby who I’ve grown up with my entire life, one of my best friends, is just fantastic.”

The feelings are mutual. Mackenzie said, “I have absolutely loved having Corey here. Ever since Corey transferred into Wheaton my freshman year, I have had the pleasure to see him flourish at Wheaton on the weekdays and dominate the field on the weekends. He is surrounded by an incredible group of men and I’m quite proud of the man, player, friend and even neighbor that he is to me and everyone around him.”

“He leads by example. He’s an inspiration to myself and my other teammates,” defensive linemen Grant Miller said about Kennedy, his voice turning serious. “He sets a really high standard for the rest of the defense and the rest of the team. It really helps to watch what he’s doing and how he fills his role.”

After the football season is over, Kennedy is not planning on pulling a Tim Tebow and returning to baseball — sorry Coach Husted. Instead, he plans to enter the business world and hopefully, in some way, stay connected to football.

“I’ve loved my business internship, but I’d also love to stay around the game of football,” Kennedy shared. “Whether by coaching or getting involved with a high school team, I’d love to bring that alongside something in the business world.”

His dedication in the classroom and grit on the field are a couple of reasons why Kennedy was named a Semifinalist for the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell Trophy in September, which is given annually to the nation’s best football scholar-athlete.

When asked if he was aware that he was a semi-finalist, Kennedy said, “First of all, Stevie had it last year, and if I’m anywhere close to him, I think I’m doing something right. He was a great football player, a great dude and really smart. Other than that, I think the recognition is just a credit to the people around me who have pushed me not only on the field, but academically.”

“He’s an extremely dedicated and driven man — the hardest worker I know,” Mackenzie said.

To those living next door to him, those taking the field with him or even those halfway across the country from him, Kennedy’s fortitude has made an impact.

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