Arriving at USC as one of the most heralded members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2009, Devon Kennard had his ups and downs in his first four years on campus due primarily to a constant series of position changes, as well as a number of injuries -- including a torn chest muscle that forced him to miss all of 2012.
This past season, however, everything came together as the fifth-year senior co-captain found his niche lining up at SAM linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s "52" defensive scheme. Racking up a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, Kennard was a key piece of the puzzle for a Trojans defense that allowed just 335.2 yards per game -- the No. 13 mark in the FBS.
A 2013 second-team All-Pac-12 selection and Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist, the Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista product also excelled inside the classroom at USC, while also taking part in a number of charitable activities off campus.
Finishing his career with 32 starts to his credit along with 195 tackles, he recently took part in the East-West Shrine Game, where he was one of the standouts of the practice sessions leading up to the contest. Now gearing up for the NFL scouting combine (Feb. 22-25) and USC’s pro day (March 12), he took a break from his training schedule to talk to WeAreSC.
WeAreSC: What were you able to take away from the recent East-West Shrine Game experience?
Devon Kennard: Just being able to be rewarded with that kind of opportunity to go to an all-star game like that was an honor for me. And what the East-West Shrine Game stands for with the Shriners Hospitals and being able to have fun with some kids that are in some really tough situations, that was awesome. So I loved everything that it stood for, and the football aspect of it, it was great to just get the opportunity to compete against some of the best players from all over the country. And then getting to know some of these guys from all over the place, it was a really cool dynamic.
WeAreSC: What else have you been up to since the season ended?
Kennard: I’m training in Sherman Oaks (Calif.) at a place called Athletic Gains, and I’m just training every day, getting ready for pro day and the NFL combine.
WeAreSC: You played all over the place in your first four years at USC from defensive end to middle linebacker before really taking off in Clancy Pendergast’s defense at outside linebacker. How gratifying was it for you to find so much success in your final season?
Kennard: It was a great opportunity to play in Coach Pendergast’s defense, and my injury turned out to be a big blessing for me. It was a great year to be a part of. We had an awesome year on defense, and although we didn’t do as well as we wanted to, to end the season 10-4 with all of the adversity that we faced, I’m really proud to have been a captain of that team.
WeAreSC: You arrived at USC in 2009, so you saw a lot of coaches come and go. Can you pick one or two who had an especially profound impact on you?
Kennard: Most definitely Coach [Ed] Orgeron because he was my position coach for a good amount of time, but also Coach Joe Barry. The year I played middle linebacker he was my coach, and I learned so much from him in getting ready to play that position, and that was a good experience as well. I’ve had a lot of coaches, but I’ve also been fortunate to play for some very good coaches. I’ve had Coach Jethro Franklin, Coach [Ken] Norton, Coach Barry, Coach Orgeron, Coach Pete Jenkins ... so I’d like to argue that I’ve had some of the best position coaches at every position that I’ve played throughout my career, and I think it’s prepared me for the next level.
WeAreSC: You were able to not only earn an undergraduate degree in communication in your time at USC, but also a master’s in communication management. How big was that for you?
Kennard: It was a goal of mine going into college. I wanted to graduate as fast as I could and get into a master’s program and start that. I was going to have to be at school for at least three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years regardless, so I wanted to get as much done as possible. Being able to knock out two degrees, and for it to be completely paid for, I just really took advantage of the opportunities placed before me, and I encourage other guys to do the same.
WeAreSC: What was your favorite class at USC?
Kennard: When I was doing my master’s I had a class where I had to create a business plan for a business I wanted to start, and I chose to write a business plan for a nonprofit I hope to start in the future. Just understanding all that goes into starting a business, and doing all the steps and going through the processes, it was really cool.
WeAreSC: You were a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist due in part to your off-the-field charity work. Can you talk about that aspect of your life?
Kennard: I’ve been a part of multiple different Bible study groups throughout my time at USC, and then every time we have opportunities I do charity work. I’ve gone and fed people on Skid Row for Thanksgiving, I’ve gone to Children’s Hospitals, I went to Haiti, and for me I just feel like God gave me the platform I have for a reason. Just meeting kids and seeing how they handle difficult situations, and how happy they are despite their circumstances, I feel like I’ve learned more from some of those experiences than I’ve given in a sense. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and I feel like it’s a part of our duty as athletes and as being people that kids look up to.
WeAreSC: What did the whole experience of playing at USC mean to you?
Kennard: For me, individually, when I do something, I want to truly embody it in everything I do, and it’s something I’m proud of. I feel like if you look in every aspect of my life, I embody ‘Fight On’ because of the difficulties that I faced with injuries, the difficulties I faced with position changes, school challenges, and all the coaching changes we dealt with, and I feel like that’s what it’s about. That’s why you come to USC. You can never see the future and know exactly what you’re getting yourself into beforehand, but I truly wanted to embody what it meant to ‘Fight On.’ And I feel like I’m leaving USC a better person.
WeAreSC: If you had one message for USC fans, what would it be?
Kennard: I would say just continue to believe and fight on. I want the USC brand to be as strong as it ever was, and I want the entire fan base to continue to believe in USC and what the program stands for, and what it’s going to stand for moving forward. And for me, personally, I just want to say thank you for the great experience that I had at USC, and for the support I’ve had over the years. It’s been an awesome experience, and I have to thank the fans for the part they played in it.