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One Cool Customer

September 25, 2013
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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ONE COOL CUSTOMER

Malcome Kennedy stays calm and clutch
to stave off asthma, opposing defenders

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

Former Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope says he vividly recalls the strong and positive first impression that Malcome Kennedy made on him when the true freshman arrived in College Station in 2010. In fact, Swope had such a good initial vibe about Kennedy that he was inspired to personally take the youngster from tiny Cayuga, Texas (population approximately 200) under his wing.

Swope, who finished his A&M career last season as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and career receiving yards, had heard about the remarkable high school statistics that Kennedy compiled as a quarterback in leading Class 1A Cayuga to the 2009 state championship. And it was obvious to Swope, along with practically everyone else associated with the A&M football program, that Kennedy possessed outstanding athleticism. 

There was something else about Kennedy’s personality, however, that was truly distinguishing and alluring, Swope recalled. Part of it was his relentless work ethic, and part of it was his eagerness to learn from the older players. Swope also appreciated Kennedy’s humility and sincerity. But it was even more than all of those things.

Kennedy possessed a distinctively calm, unassuming and composed demeanor, which was unlike most incoming freshmen—especially freshmen from a community that barely qualifies as a map dot.

“In some ways, I was kind of in his same spot when I arrived at A&M, even though I was from a much bigger hometown and high school,” said Swope, a prep star at Class 5A Austin Westlake. “Coming out of high school, I had played running back and had never played wide receiver. I had to talk to (Ryan) Tannehill, and he taught me so much about the position. He was my mentor. So, when I met Malcome, I just thought it was a great opportunity to do for him what Tannehill had done for me. And as I got to know him better, I just liked him. He’s a very likeable kid. He’s quiet, he’s determined, and he’s probably one of the most laid-back kids I know.”

Indeed, the engaging, but soft-spoken Kennedy, now a junior receiver for the Aggies, is as typically “chilled” as a supermarket meat department. In the old-school vernacular, he’s “cool.” In the more modern slang, he’s “tight.” He possesses an unflappable smoothness in virtually all situations, and those who know him well cannot fathom anything that would rattle, frustrate or infuriate him.

"(Malcome) is such a high-quality person. He’s an easy guy to like and an easy guy to root for. He is just the type of guy you love to coach."

- David Beaty, A&M WR Coach

Quite frankly, Kennedy is the personification of poise.

Interestingly, Kennedy says that’s not merely his dominant personality. Nor is it simply a tranquil trait he has developed to combat high-pressure situations on or off the field.

Kennedy’s composure is literally the answer to prayers. It’s a testament to the power of mind over matter and modern medicine. And it’s the primary reason that he is an athlete at all…let alone one of the primary receiving targets on one of the most prolific offenses in college football.

Swope is so high on Kennedy—the player and the person—that he believes the Cayuga native possesses the ability to become the next, well, Ryan Swope in terms of being the reliable, go-to third-down inside receiver of preference for Johnny Manziel or any other A&M quarterback. But a little more than a decade ago, doctors predicted that Kennedy would never even play Little Dribblers basketball, Pop Warner football or any other sports because of his severe asthma.

“A series of doctors told me to brace myself because Malcome would not be able to participate in sports because he was a very bad asthmatic,” recalled his mother, Vicki Marshall from her home in Tennessee Colony, which is about 12 miles southeast of Cayuga and roughly 13 miles northwest of Palestine. “I was OK with that, but when Malcome was maybe eight or nine, he decided he loved basketball. They were treating him with asthma medicine (corticosteroids), and then they tried ADVAIR.

“He began to read about ADVAIR, and it said if you were an athlete and you suffered an injury, your healing time could be longer than normal. He looked at me and said, ‘Mama, I’m going to have to pray and come up with a different solution.’ I said, ‘OK, baby, but you’re just 8 years old. You will have plenty of time, but right now take your medicine.’ He wouldn’t do it. He was polite, but he wouldn’t take it. He eventually learned to control the asthma. I believe it is Divine intervention. God knew his heart, and miraculously, Malcome has been able to control it ever since then.”

The secret, Kennedy discovered, was to simply keep his cool. In Kennedy’s case, his asthma was exercise-induced and was not initiated by allergens, smoke, air pollution or any of the common triggers. As he prayed for some sort of a breakthrough, he also discovered that not all exercise caused his breathing issues. The wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and so forth only started when he was overly intense or angry.

“It’s kind of like the (Incredible) Hulk affect,” Kennedy said. “If I get mad while I am tired, I will definitely start breathing harder and can feel the asthma coming on. But if I can just stay calm, I can control it. I stopped using the medicine a long time ago, and now I have totally learned to control it. Keeping my composure is not just good; it’s vital for me. For whatever reason, when I get mad and have negative emotions, it triggers the asthma. I can be excited and happy after a big play, and that doesn’t trigger it, fortunately. The bottom line is that I just don’t lose my cool. Ever.”

His easy-going demeanor is one of the reasons Kennedy has become among the most popular and admired players on the entire A&M roster. And his development as a receiver since he first arrived at A&M in 2010 has virtually everyone—from coaches to players—raving about his upside potential.

“I think the No. 1 thing that sticks out about him to me is his work ethic,” said A&M receivers coach David Beaty. “Malcome is a quiet guy who goes about his business every day and basically out-works everyone. He prepares extremely hard, both physically and mentally for each game. He has a really good idea for what we do offensively. He can play any one of our positions because he knows our entire system, which takes a very high level of commitment. He is also such a high-quality person. He’s an easy guy to like and an easy guy to root for. He is just the type of guy you love to coach.”



A LIFELONG PEOPLE-PLEASER

Vicki Marshall is not surprised that her oldest son is one of the most universally liked players in the A&M locker room. After all, she says Malcome has been interested in pleasing others for as long as she can remember.

Vicki gave birth to Malcome in Nacogdoches when she was only 18. The relationship with his biological father and her high school sweetheart didn’t work out, so she relied heavily on her parents to help raise Malcome as Vicki attended college at Stephen F. Austin. She then landed a job with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System in Tennessee Colony, where four major TDCJ correctional facilities are located. She did plenty of driving across East Texas roadways while Malcome stayed primarily with his grandparents.

Out of necessity, Vicki says she missed out on many developmental moments in Malcome’s early life, but she knew from an early age that he featured a people-oriented, big-hearted and caring personality.

“He is different, and even as a child he was different,” said Vicki, who also has two younger boys and is married to Lamorris Marshall, the pastor of a small Baptist church. “Sometimes, you have to spank kids in order to get them to cooperate, but with Malcome, if you were to raise your voice, that’s all the discipline he needed. He would come to me and say, ‘Mama I don’t like to disappoint anyone. It hurts me when I’m a disappointment to someone.’ A lot of kids are selfish and only worried about themselves, but not Malcome. He just wants to please others.

“I missed out on some of those special early memories, as (the boys) spent the majority of the time with my parents until I got home from work. I got tired of missing out on things, and when he was in the seventh grade, I moved him and his brothers to Tennessee Colony. That’s when he started going to Cayuga schools.”

With his asthma under control, Kennedy began pleasing others with his impressive athletic feats. His first love was basketball, and he could practically leap out of the gym by the time he reached high school. It didn’t take long for Cayuga head football coach Tommy Allison (now the coach at Waco Robinson) to notice the hoops star. Allison began encouraging Kennedy to play football, and as a sophomore in 2007, he gave it a shot.

He was a natural from the start, learning the receiver position and developing into a stellar player by the end of the year. Then as a junior in ’08, Kennedy caught 47 passes for 763 yards and 10 touchdowns; rushed for 300 yards; intercepted seven passes on defense; and also kicked and punted when the team needed it. Along with fellow star Traylon Shead, Kennedy helped lead the Wildcats to the Class A, Division II state championship game before Cayuga lost.

“I remember coming up to him the summer before his senior year saying, ‘Malcome, I need you to play quarterback,’” Allison recalled. “He said, ‘Coach I don’t really want to play quarterback, but if that is what the team needs, I will do it.’ That’s the kind of unselfish young man he is. And he was a great example to my own sons, Chase and Cade, who wanted to wear his No. 3 jersey. They loved Malcome as a person, and everybody in the community loved to watch him play.”

Shead was a four-star prospect who ran for 10,291 yards (third all-time in Texas) and 141 TDs during his career at Cayuga, and he eventually signed with Texas before transferring to SMU. But as college coaches across the region came to watch Shead during the Wildcats’ run to back-to-back state championship games, they couldn’t help but to also notice Kennedy.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that he can achieve all he wants over the next two seasons. He is one of the most talented kids I have seen play that inside receiver."

- Ryan Swope (A&M WR 2009-12)

As a senior in ’09, Kennedy rushed for 2,356 yards and 24 touchdowns and passed for 1,516 yards and 22 more scores. He also played on defense and most special teams, and after Shead was injured prior to the 2009 title game, Kennedy accounted for four TDs in the 38-24 win over Albany to capture the state championship.

“The running backs coach at A&M at the time was Randy Jordan, and pretty much everyone was recruiting my friend (Shead),” said the 6-foot, 200-pound Kennedy. “Coach Jordan liked me, and when I took my official visit to A&M, I loved it. I never went anywhere else. I knew I wanted to come to A&M.”

After graduating from Cayuga (he was one of 52 seniors in his class), the bright-eyed Kennedy happily returned to wide receiver, redshirting in 2010 and soaking up everything he could from Swope and the other A&M upperclassmen. He says the redshirt season was a great learning experience for him, and he developed enough to play in all 13 games in 2011.

Kennedy made 11 catches for 140 yards (12.7 per catch) as a freshman, including catching four passes for 60 yards at Oklahoma. There weren’t too many memorable team moments during that disappointing 2011 season for the Aggies, who couldn’t hold on to double-digit leads in five of the team’s six losses.

The biggest win of that season probably came at home against Baylor and the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.

That was also Kennedy’s personal favorite memory, as he caught a key third-down pass from Tannehill for 19 yards and a first down early in the second half. It was his first collegiate reception, and it came on a corner route.

Perhaps that was a sign of things to come.

Last year as a sophomore, Kennedy became even more of a focal part of the offense, playing in all 13 games, starting three and catching 26 passes for 285 yards.

The most memorable reception—without a doubt—was once again a corner route. But last year’s favorite catch helped his own quarterback win a Heisman Trophy, as opposed to beating a Heisman winner the year before.

With A&M clinging to a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter at Alabama, the Aggies’ defense came up with a big play when Dustin Harris recovered a T.J. Yeldon fumble at the A&M 34.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Johnny Manziel hit Swope on a 42-yard pass that stunned the crowd and gave the Aggies the ball on the Alabama 24. Then A&M called another pass play that sent Kennedy on a corner route. Manziel lofted a wobbly pass in Kennedy’s direction, and the youngster came up with what proved to be the game-winning catch.

“The only thought that crossed my mind as the ball was coming down to me was I’m going to catch it,” said Kennedy, who is a recreation, parks and tourism science major. “I knew I wasn’t going to drop it. I knew I was going to catch it. When I did catch it, it got so quiet. I really thought there was a penalty or something because 101,000 people just went quiet. I was thrilled there wasn’t a penalty because that was a great moment.”

He’s had plenty of additional great moments in recent weeks. Kennedy caught six passes for 57 yards and three touchdowns on Sept. 14 in the rematch against Alabama, a game the Aggies lost, 49-42, at Kyle Field. Kennedy entered the game with only two TD receptions in 28 career games, but he just missed tying Swope’s single-game school record of four TD catches, which came against Baylor in 2011.

Last weekend against SMU, Kennedy enjoyed another productive game, leading all A&M receivers with six receptions for 83 yards and another score.

Swope says he isn’t surprised that Kennedy is improving week after week. Kennedy has taken over the inside receiver position where Swope made so many big catches last year, and he would love to have a similarly big impact on the A&M offense in his final two years of eligibility.

Although it is not necessarily his nature to be outspoken, Kennedy says he also wants to emerge as a vocal leader for the Aggies this year and beyond. And ultimately, Kennedy says he’d also love to be drafted by a team in the NFL, just as Swope was by the Cardinals last spring.

Swope believes Kennedy is capable of all of those things…and then some.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he can achieve all he wants over the next two seasons,” Swope said. “He is one of the most talented kids I have seen play that inside receiver. I know he has the trust of his quarterback. His quarterback can always trust that Malcome is going to be where he needs to be and that he is always going to do the little things correctly. Plus, he’s not the kind of guy who is going to make mistakes under pressure. He’s the kind of guy who is going to come through in the clutch.”

And never lose his cool. Never.



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