- Max Olson, Big 12 reporter
How have you never heard of Ke'aun Kinner?
At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds from a small but fast-growing town called Little Elm that’s tucked away north of Dallas, he can be easy to miss.
He set out to make a name for himself with his senior season. He did a little better than that, producing one of the state’s most remarkable seasons in only 10 games.
Kinner carried the ball 374 times for the Class 4A Lobos, rushing for 2,929 yards and 28 touchdowns. He scored 10 touchdowns of 50-plus yards, including five from more than 70.
Kinner’s rushing numbers made him easily the top rusher in the Metroplez. In fact, he rushed for 1,034 yards more than the top back in Class 5A, ESPN 150 athlete Dontre Wilson.
"I think the stats speak for themselves," Kinner said.
So, again, how has this kid flown under most schools’ recruiting radars? How is it that not one school has offered him a scholarship?
UTSA and Louisiana-Monroe are interested. A few bigger FBS schools inquired but couldn’t offer. They didn’t think he had the grades to qualify.
And yet, Texas just might be the school that takes a chance on Kinner.
The Longhorns sent co-offensive coordinator Darrell Wyatt to Little Elm last Tuesday. The hallways were buzzing that day, according to Kinner. It’s all he heard about the rest of the afternoon.
“I was shocked,” he said. “They’ve been my favorite school since I was a little kid, so that surprised me.”
What Wyatt told him and his coach might’ve been more surprising: Get your grades and test scores in order, and you’ve got a good shot at a scholarship offer.
Texas lost its only running back commit, Arlington (Texas) Martin’s Kyle Hicks, when he flipped his pledge to TCU on Dec. 3. Since then, the Longhorns have been looking high and low for a suitable replacement.
Kinner appears to be near the top of their list at the moment, and he said he would almost certainly commit if offered. Considering his grades might prevent him from stepping on campus, offering him a spot in Texas’ 2013 class is a boom-or-bust proposition.
Is Kinner worth the trust and, more importantly, the risk?
“We all sat down and Coach Wyatt asked the kid how bad he really wants to play at this level,” Little Elm coach Donald Stowers said.
“I didn’t have to say anything,” Kinner said. “I just smiled.”
It was the kind of meeting he’d had always dreamed of having. The answer to Texas’ question, though, will depend on if Kinner can work as hard off the field this spring as he did on it this fall.
You don’t get numbers like Kinner’s without a few huge games. He produced more than a few.
Kinner kicked off his coming-out party with 46 carries for 432 yards and four scores against Sherman. He carried the ball 55 times against Prosper for 332 yards and four more touchdowns.
He topped that a week later: 57 carries, 345 yards, two scores against Frisco Wakeland. That put Kinner No. 4 in the all-time state record books for carries in a single game.
He scored four or more touchdowns in five games. He had to. He was, with all due respect to his teammates, Little Elm’s entire offense: Kinner took handoffs on 62 percent of his team’s plays and churned out 75 percent of its yardage.
Stowers knows the 50-carry plateau isn’t exactly ideal for a teenage running back, but Kinner never once complained.
“It’s what we had to do in order to win,” Stowers said. “We knew there would be multiple nights with over 40 carries. During the game, we didn’t realize he was in the 50-carry range until after the game.
“But his first carry is as intense as his last one. You can’t really tell if you need to give him a break. It’s unbelievable to see that and be a part of that.”
Now he’s hoping he can get his big break, and Stowers is confident Kinner will do whatever it takes to ensure he’ll be eligible and won’t end up in junior college.
“They want to give me a scholarship offer,” Kinner said, “but they want to wait until my ACT score comes in. I’m doing way better with my grades than I was before.”
He’s expecting to get a score back in the few weeks and has signed up to retake the test in January. After that, he doesn’t have much time.
Signing day is Feb. 6. If Texas wants him, he’ll have to convince its coaches he’s making progress. He’ll have to prove his academic house will be in order by the end of the school year.
Kinner isn’t lacking in motivation. A dream chance at Texas could await him if he puts up one more prolific semester. This time, it’ll have to be in the classroom.
“I think the state and the nation needs to see him play on that type of a stage at Texas,” Stowers said. “If he does have that opportunity, everybody will be wondering, where did he come from?”
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