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February 27, 2013When it comes to football, Devon Kennard has been through a lot.
There is no other way of putting it. How do you quantify four injuries (and subsequent surgeries), three different positions and two different head coaches?
How do prepare for your third defensive coordinator with a brand new scheme?
How do you come back for one last chance?
With a smile on your face like you are a kid in a candy store again.
It's nice to see him back. Just ask his best friend and roommate, defensive end Kevin Greene.
"The biggest [setback] he had most recently when he tore his pectoral muscle. It was tough for me to see because until that, he had been putting in so much work up until that injury," Greene recalls. "He was looking forward to coming out and making all this preparation for the next chapter in his life and to see something like that so quickly, in the blink of an eye, he kind of felt like the whole world just shattered down on him."
The two ends had met in 2009, four years and three defensive coordinators ago, as incoming freshmen. They talked, or more accurately, texted back and forth trying to get ready to play college football. They had a fair amount in common, except for one thing: Greene had only started playing the game his junior of high school.
Kennard had already suffered his first major injury by the time they met. He spent most of his last season in high school sidelined after tearing knee ligaments. But the scars were simply proof that he had been around a time or two.
"I was learning from him day-to-day," Greene said. "Seeing how he interacts on the field. That was stuff I was taking to add to my own repertoire. Stuff like that comes so naturally for him."
It came naturally. And at a price. Kennard needed surgery on his left thumb by the spring 0f 2010. After the season, he had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his hip.
"His injuries are something that I joke with him all the time," Greene laughs. "I always tell him by the time he is in his sixties, I am going to be looking a lot better than he is."
It's a sign that not just the physical pain has healed. The emotional side effects have subsided.
"Maybe this is God's way of telling me that I need to play a different sport," Kennard wondered after his latest injury. It was, if nothing else, untimely. At best, he would miss half the 2012 season.
Greene, and safety T.J. McDonald didn't think that was the case. They encouraged him. They told him to keep the faith. And they reminded him that even if it sounded clich?what didn't kill him made him stronger.
"That is what these injuries have done to him. They have made him stronger."
Instead of returning as damaged and outdated, he was updated.
Devon Kennard, v. 4.0
This latest version comes with coaching experience, complete with visor.
"Coach Kennard. He is always wearing that ugly visor that I hate," Greene joked. "If Devon retires from the game or he stops playing football he is going to be the perfect coach."
The rehabbing defensive end sat in on meetings, focused during practice and had eyes wide open.
"He took notes. On Morgan [Breslin]. On George [Uko]. He sits behind me in the film room and we're watching film and leans over my shoulder and say 'Kevin. That's what I was telling you about. That's what you have to improve on' or 'good job.' "
Kennard has a way of getting through to people.
"He picks up concepts extremely quick. He is able to break it down and explain to a player that might not know as much about the position or the skill set."
Maybe the last part comes from personal experience. When not injured, he was getting switched to different positions.
After being recruited as a defensive end, he was put in at strong side linebacker during his freshman year under the Carroll administration. When Kiffin came back to Los Angeles, Kennard was switched to middle linebacker.
By the time he was a junior, they asked him to return to defensive end. This also meant gaining the weight he had lost to play linebacker.
"I wouldn't say it was frustrating," Kennard says. "More like a challenge."
And yes, he was smiling at that thought. It involved playing football, not rehabilitating.
"Playing football is what he loves to do," says Greene.
So despite the injuries, and the fact that he is going to be graduating with his masters in communication management, his time to coach will wait.
Kennard decided to redshirt last season and come back for a fifth and final year to play, fully-healed, as he prepares for the NFL.
Greene says he knows what that means.
"I don't have to sign a new lease or find a new roommate."