Where's that skinny kid from the buttoned-up prep school in Connecticut? The one who wouldn't accept his lacrosse scholarship from Virginia...
Where’s that skinny kid from the buttoned-up prep school in Connecticut?
The one who wouldn’t accept his lacrosse scholarship from Virginia without an assurance he could try out for football, too.
What was that kid’s name again? Kerney. Patrick Kerney.
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That’s who assistant coach Art Markos looked for the first day of Cavaliers football practice back in 1995. The 6-foot-5 defensive end visited the school the year before with his parents, arms hanging like rubber bands and eagerness coming out his ears. Kerney showed up as a freshman weighing about 230 pounds. The coach barely recognized him.
“He just transformed in one year like you would never believe,” Markos said.
Hardly the last time Kerney exceeded expectations. He has made quite a career of that, in fact. The lacrosse prospect who insisted on being a football project became a first-round NFL pick by the time he left Virginia in 1999. And that as much as anything explains why the Seahawks guaranteed him more than $19 million this offseason to sign him away from Atlanta. Kerney is 30, three years removed from his 13-sack season of 2004 and coming off the first major injury of his career, a torn pectoral muscle. But the Seahawks looked at his history and saw a cornerstone they could plant on the left side of their defensive line.
“He just works so darn hard to try and be the best he can be,” said president Tim Ruskell. “And it’s infectious. It was infectious in Atlanta. It’s going to be infectious here.”
Kerney is the classic left end, strong enough to defend the run, fast enough to get to the quarterback. His persistence truly explains his success, though.
“One of his greatest attributes as a player is just his relentlessness,” said assistant head coach Jim Mora, who coached Kerney in Atlanta.
That trait got his foot in the door of a football program even though Division I-A colleges weren’t lining up to fish him out of high school. At least not to play football. Lacrosse was his ticket.
“Every kid that’s ever picked up a stick loves the sport,” Kerney said. “You tell a 10-year-old kid you get to run around, sling a ball and whack somebody with a stick, the 10-year-old’s gonna’ say, ‘I’m going to take it.’ ”
He attended lacrosse camps in the summer, not the football camps colleges use as recruiting tools. He began playing football in the seventh grade, but as much as he enjoyed the sport, he never considered it a realistic path.
“When I was in high school, I figured all Division I-A football players were 7 feet tall shooting fire out of their eyeballs,” Kerney said.
Not that Kerney lacked in stature. A defenseman in lacrosse, he was the player Virginia lacrosse coach Dom Starsia once said he wanted getting off the bus first.
“He was just a pretty fearsome presence,” said Jol Everett, Kerney’s high-school lacrosse coach.
Kerney attended the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., where football was a diversion, not a devotion. The school dates to the 1800s, founded by the younger brother of U.S. President William Howard Taft. It’s the kind of place more likely to produce a defense secretary than a defensive end.
“I don’t think they had a high regard of the competitive level that I played at,” Kerney said.
Nope. Not so much.
“A tennis-shoe league,” said George Welsh, Kerney’s college coach at Virginia.
Kerney visited Virginia in August as a lacrosse prospect, but did some running drills for the football coaches.
“He was all right,” Markos said.
Markos remembers Kerney weighing 195 pounds that audition. Maybe 200 if he was dripping wet. So the coaches did a double-take when Kerney arrived for football practice the next year. He weighed about 230, 10 of which Kerney said he gained over the summer before college. He ran 40 yards in 4.7 seconds, and as Kerney walked off the track, the coach knew he had a player with a chance to be something special.
“We needed to teach him some techniques,” Welsh said. “But he always had a great first step.”
That became apparent immediately. Kerney expected to redshirt that first season, preserving his year of eligibility. He ended up in uniform for the first game at Michigan as the emergency defensive end. Kerney began college with the goal of playing on special teams and backup defensive end as a redshirt junior. Instead, he played as a true freshman. His new goal became to start as a junior. That happened, too.
He played lacrosse as a freshman, but gave up the sport a year later and switched to a football scholarship. That sport had always been Kerney’s passion. Now he felt it also held possibilities for him.
“It’s just an incredible rush,” Kerney said of football. “I always had that. There was just sort of something in my subconscious that said, ‘This isn’t supposed to be your future. No matter how much you love it, it’s not supposed to be your future.’ ”
That was just one more expectation that Kerney learned to overcome on his way to the NFL.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org