Every year around this time, thousands of college students turn in their last papers, take their final finals and prepare to walk across the stage in their cap and gowns to receiver their college degrees. Some will have jobs already lined up and will look excitedly towards the future. Others will continue putting applications and resumes out there, hoping and praying to just get that one call in the coming months.
And still, others will get their degrees on May 11th and then return to compete for a national championship in the fall. USC DE Devon Kennard is one such student.
“I wanted to graduate and try to start grad school. I knew it would be harder, but wanted to maintain a high GPA, a 3.0 or higher and I did that all three years.”
For many reasons, Kennard’s experiences at USC have been ideal: he was a top recruit at his position out of high school; he had the honor of being recruited by the beloved Pete Carroll; he got to play for his dream school on a full-ride scholarship; he got to play in or start in every game of his college career. And for a lot of other reasons it has been the exact opposite: The coach that recruited him jumped ship for the NFL right before the NCAA put the smack down on USC football; he had two post season surgeries that kept him out of every spring ball his freshman and sophomore seasons; he had to play out of position at middle linebacker during his sophomore season, which didn’t work out as well as he would have hoped.
It’s been a roller coaster to say the least, but Kennard will walk away from USC with something that neither the NCAA nor critics can ever take away from him: his USC degree.
From an early age, Kennard knew that no matter where he went to college, he was going to get a degree.
“I always said I wanted to try to graduate early but I couldn’t have imagined it happening more perfectly for me,” Kennard said of graduating from USC after three years. “I was able to finish in three years, start grad school, so by the time I leave ‘SC I will have my degree and be halfway done with grad school.”
And he’s not the only Trojan that will walk across the stage come Friday.
Quarterback Matt Barkley, safety T.J. McDonald, defensive end Kevin Green, center Khaled Holmes, safety Jawanza Starling, and safety Drew McCallister, among others, will also get their degrees this spring.
Kennard says that being able to walk this spring with members of his class is an exciting prospect. “I have to finish my summer class and then I get my diploma, but it’s a crazy experience for us because we remember our freshman year and we are a semester away from getting degrees and taking that next step.”
For this Trojan team, that next step is getting back on the gridiron and grinding it out on the road to the national championship. And if any group of athletes can get it done, it is absolutely this Trojan team. When it comes to overcoming obstacles, they make it look like a walk in the park.
“I think it just shows you what kind of guys this senior class is made of. We’ve worked hard, dealt with adversity, and we’ve played on some USC teams that have really struggled,” Kennard says. “And we have been resilient. Last season we were really good and hopefully we can carry that on this season. And hopefully we can be just as resilient this season.”
But even after the season ends, and after his years in Trojan land are but a memory, the degree that he will have mounted on his wall will serve as a constant reminder of the time he put into excelling both on and off the field.
“It’s huge. One thing I have a realistic perspective of is that the NFL is Not For Long. So getting a degree is huge and I’m proud of myself and of the other guys to be able to finish school like we have. We will be able to walk out of here with individual and team successes, and also our degrees and that’s amazing,” Kennard said.
There’s a notion in college athletics that the term “student-athletes” is a joke, but Kennard strongly disagrees with that notion. He has maintained above a 3.0 in the classroom, all while devoting 40-plus hours a week to Lane Kiffin, to improving his play on the field. He has been recognized for his academic achievements a number of times, a testament to how serious Kennard is about getting his education. “USC is not an easy school and we do the same amount of class as everyone else,” he says, “So we are definitely hard workers and determined.”
After May, it will be business as usual for Kennard. He has his last football season to look forward to, one in which he will be one of the two starting DEs for USC. In spite of the ups and downs, Kennard is really looking forward to the limitless potential he feels he has for this season.
“I can’t worry about the past. My career hasn’t been everything I envisioned but I have one more year to prove myself. I feel like my best football is still yet to be played,” Kennard said, “but going into the season having my degree is going to take a huge load off in terms of stress, so I can better focus on my game.”
And if the football gods decide in favor of USC, Kennard and the other graduating Trojans will have a shiny bowl ring to mount next to their college degrees.
Devon Kennard and the other Trojans are set to participate in USC’s commencement this Friday, May 11th. The main ceremony starts at 8:30 a.m.