Paving His Own Path
For Brophy junior defensive lineman Devan Kennedy, dad casts a bigger shadow, both literally, and figuratively, than most.
Said dad is Jimmy Kennedy – all 6-foot-4, 315 pounds of him. His football resume includes All-American honors at Penn State, being selected in the first round of the 2003 draft (12th overall) by the St. Louis Rams, and winning a Super Bowl with the New York Giants.
Devan grew up craving his own athletic identity…on the hard wood, not the gridiron.
“Man, for the longest time I didn’t want to be in his shadow,” Devan, explained to the “Zone Read.” “I just took a liking more to basketball, and it was different from my dad so I just stuck with it.”
After only one season of organized football at the tender age of five, basketball became the play.
Devan’s high school path would take a few unique, and unexpected, pivots. The Kennedy’s district school was Centennial where he would spend his freshman year, mostly at-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before deciding to transfer to Deer Valley in hopes of playing for long-time, well-respected head basketball coach, Jed Dunn.
While Kennedy’s focus was basketball, a few of his DV classmates, most notably former Deer Valley and Cactus quarterback, Rudy Gonzales urged Devan to try football again.
Kennedy agreed to give it shot, but it wouldn’t at Deer Valley.
Red Army Restart
“You need to go to Brophy. Everyone who meets you says you’re a Brophy kid.”
Jimmy Kennedy didn’t mince words during those tough, yet necessary, conversations with Devan after following sophomore year.
After some initial hesitation, Devan decided to apply, and was accepted to the Catholic prep school in Central Phoenix. The next decision made was to shift his focus from basketball to football with the Broncos.
The first day of the 2022 school year, the lanky then 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior (with a 7-foot wingspan) would first be introduced to Brophy head football coach, Jason Jewell.
“I didn’t know him at all,” Jewell said without hesitation. “When he showed up, I’d never seen him. I’d never spoke to him, and he had never played football. He didn’t know how to get into a [football] girdle. I was teaching him how to get into a stance.”
For Kennedy, the initial learning curve was steep and unforgiving.
“Coming in all I tried to do was learn,” Kennedy said. “It was a long process of determination and just learning [the game]. It was all an adjustment.”
First Play, Only Play
It was BCP’s 2022 season opener at Sandra Day O’Connor High where Kennedy’s ready-or-not varsity football christening would occur.
“I run out there,” Kennedy explained flashing a sheepish smile. “New guys out there [to hit], different from practice. I was told earlier in the week they’d bring me in third-and-long because of my speed. [At the snap] I got in there. I was kind of close to the quarterback. At this point, I don’t know how to tackle so I just swiped at the ball.”
Coming off the opposite edge, teammate Mardale Ward pounced on the fumble as Brophy’s sideline erupted.
“To be honest with you,” Kennedy continued. “No clue what I did.
“After the game I asked my dad, ‘Was that a sack?’ He said, ‘Yes, sack and a caused fumble.’ I had no idea. I learned something new.”
That would be the only down he would play against O’Connor but the quick glimpse was enough for Jewell and his staff to realize Kennedy could be a long-term difference maker for BCP. He finished the season with 12 tackles (two for loss), 1.5 sacks, and a 72-yard interception return for touchdown against Red Mountain in the playoffs.
While Devan flashed obvious potential last fall, Jimmy realized his football learning curve remains steep.
“The struggle with him [last] year, and not in a bad way, was trying to get him to see the game,” his dad said. “The thing about Devan is, he’s a pleaser and because he’s never played, he’s trusting his coaches to put him in the right place…right now it’s getting him to use his natural instincts.”
Playing the Weight(ing) Game
What may be even more impressive than Kennedy’s quick study on the field was his dedication to making over his body from a wiry strong prep basketball player into a 6A-sized defensive lineman.
According to Jewell, Kennedy could barely power clean 95 pounds – essentially the weight bar, and a 25-pound disc on both ends.
“Yep, that’s true,” Devan said chuckling.
For Kennedy, the self deprecating humor comes with an appreciation for perception – from past to present.
In eight short months since arriving on campus, Kennedy has completely transformed his body in ways not common to high school juniors.
During an interview, I was asked… “What does dedication look like for me” I showed the interviewer @DevanKennedy91 transformation this offseason for football! Interviewer “HOLY CRAP”!! ✊🏾🐻👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/W1X9O3RlMd
— Jimmy GRIZZ Kennedy (@Kennedy73) March 12, 2023
“In football lifting is important, we did it every other day,” he said. “I dedicated myself to it. Let’s learn technique, Let’s keep getting better and progressing.”
Enjoyed taking in “Brophy Under the Lights tonight. @FootballBrophy putting in that off-season grind 💪💯, including @DevanKennedy91 here 👀! #BST @Sports360AZ pic.twitter.com/MeQr8Pskqo
— Eric Sorenson (@EricSports360AZ) April 4, 2023
He owes much of his new physique to Brophy’s strength coach, former University of Nebraska standout defensive end, and 3-time NFL Pro-Bowler, Kyle Vanden Bosch, as well as his dad for setting a detailed, structured mass building program to follow, while still allowing Devan to keep his lateral quickness and speed off the edge, skills he honed in basketball.
It ramped up shortly after the season ended.
“Right after Thanksgiving we were on our regimen,” Jimmy Kennedy said without hesitation. “Getting him training, lifting, and eating right. When the season was over he was 203 [pounds]. [Monday] he was 247.”
Colleges Are Calling
While Devan isn’t quite the coveted prospect his dad was in the late 1990’s, colleges began to take notice last season.
Kennedy, a 3.5 student at BCP, has desirable attributes to play at the next level.
“You could tell there were tools,” Jewell said. “Those are the kind of kids you look for. That’s what college coaches covet – is length. He has it. He’s gradually gotten better. You can put him out there and he can hold his own now.”
He recently visited UCONN and Fordham, and left the northeast with his first scholarship offer.
After a surreal conversation with @Coach_DiRi, I am blessed to announce I have received my first Division 1 offer to continue my athletic and academic journey at Fordham University! AGTG! #BST #RAMILY @jason247scout @Coach_Conlin @Kennedy73 pic.twitter.com/CgUQLdTDy9
— Devan Kennedy (@DevanKennedy91) April 2, 2023
“It feels good to know the hard work I’m putting in is being seen,” said Kennedy. “It’s great to feel, and know, that people are believing in me. The work doesn’t stop, for sure.”
Jewell, and the BCP staff are confident the interest, and eventual offers, will continue to stream in this spring with a strong showing during the evaluation period.
Kennedy said his head coach’s skillsets for growth go far beyond the X’s and O’s on Friday nights in the fall.
“He’s really good at teaching morals,” he said of Jewell. “I think he’s really good at just teaching how to carry yourself as if you’re a good person. Just showing people who you are.”
While Kennedy’s rise from a complete unknown to a Division I prospect in just a handful of months mirrors a script from a Hollywood movie, Jewell is now expecting his soon-to-be senior to take the next step between the white lines.
“I’m hoping now with the added strength, and confidence, in spring football that he dominates,” he noted. “I’m expecting it.”