Devon Kennard: Call Him Mr. Versatility

Kennard, a junior from Phoenix, Ariz., plans to reach new heights in an old role this season.

Green leaves donned his plate morning, noon and night.

To some, a salad is a delicious meal. But without dressing and only accompanied by hard-boiled eggs, this "salad" was more sacrifice than meal for a young Devon Kennard.

He didn't have to eat it. Nobody forced it down his mouth. It was a choice.

"Do you want to play football Devon?" asked his dad Derek, an 11-year NFL veteran.

The answer so firm, it needn't a reply.

So Devon Kennard did what he had to in order to lose weight. As a fifth grader, he was so big he played with athletes a year or two older, just to make up the difference.

Today, his only weight-related problem is keeping pounds on.

In late May, Kiffin and co. decided to move the Phoenix, Ariz. native from inside linebacker back to defensive end. Since the position change, Kennard has gained 10 pounds, standing at 6-3 and weighing 249 pounds.

While his demeanor toward eggs and salad has changed after that terrible diet, his attitude towards adjustment hasn't.

Because Kennard, above all else, is versatile.

"I want to utilize my talents from linebacker and everything I know about defensive end and combine the two and be able to do it all," he said.

A position known as the "Elephant," best exemplified by former Trojan linebacker Clay Matthews, is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, which starts out in a two or three-point stance on the edge of the box where the player can drop back in pass coverage or blitz. It can be used in a 4-3 like at USC, or in a 3-4, as the San Francisco 49ers famously did in the late 1980s.

Named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team as a linebacker, Kennard was a rookie at the position after being recruited as a defensive end (a Scout five-star prospect). He played on the line throughout high school, but after outside linebacker Michael Morgan suffered an injury, Kennard was asked to step in—or, well, out.

"It was a big challenge for me because I've always been the guy that watches the most film but I was learning something completely new and to be able to do what I did last season I was excited for this year to actually know the position," Kennard.

He took heat for his defensive performance as a middle linebacker in 2010, despite registering 72 tackles, including seven for loss. Although the Trojans' 8-5 record last season was a big disappointment, he said he's not looking back, or even too far ahead.

"I'm concentrating on this season, especially this fall camp [because] I'm in another situation where I have a lot to prove. A lot of eyes are on me like ‘oh what's Devon Kennard going to do?'" he said.

To those asking that question, he has plans to answer them. Possessing a 3.4 GPA at USC (and a self-reported 3.9 GPA in high school), Kennard hopes to walk at graduation next spring, and begin his graduate degree next year—in case professional football doesn't pan out. But to ensure that it does, his plans include playing time. Lots of it.

"I'm a competitor and it's my junior year and I don't have any intentions to come off the bench, to be honest," Kennard said. "I'm going into the season ready to play, ready to compete like a starter and play like one and we'll see where that puts me."

Currently slated to start at end are redshirt juniors Nick Perry and Wes Horton. Kennard, however, isn't troubled by the competition. Instead, he's excited.

"It's way more simple coming from linebacker. You have to worry about a lot less. So a lot less responsibility and doing something that I'm more comfortable with and the reason why I'm here in the first place? I'm not complaining at all," Kennard said.

With running backs to stop, quarterbacks to sack and receivers to tackle, Kennard will have a lot on his plate this Fall.

At least it's a plate that comes without lettuce.


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