Tommy Kennedy just wanted to find some leverage to get a school to pay for his graduate degree. And then, chaos, along with opportunities he’d never imagined.
On November 17, the Butler Bulldogs offensive tackle announced his intention to become a graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility with relatively modest goals that belied a personality Kennedy otherwise describes with a high level of self awareness as pushing towards the far confines of confidence.
I truly have been impacted by so many at Butler, and as I say my goodbye, I am appreciative to all who have invested in me as a player and person. pic.twitter.com/EfTy1sFT8t— Tommy Kennedy (@TommyKennedy74) November 17, 2018
Justifiably so, as it turns out, despite a decidedly humble beginning to his college career.
Kennedy wasn’t really recruited out of high school in Lake Forest, Ill., a wealthy suburb of Chicago. Iowa and Northern Illinois offered preferred walk-on spots to Kennedy, but there wasn’t much FBS interest otherwise. No profile on Rivals or 247Sports or ESPN. No steady parade of name-brand coaches through his living room.
Kennedy developed a chip on his shoulder as a result, redshirting as a freshman at Butler in 2015 and then playing sparingly the next season before emerging as a two-year starter. In 2017, he played left tackle for a line that only allowed seven sacks, the third-lowest mark in FCS, before emerging as a second-team All-Conference selection this year. He was a standout in the classroom with a 3.0 GPA and consistent spots on the All-Pioneer Football League All-Academic team and Butler Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.
“When I got to Butler, I thought I could have been playing somewhere bigger,” Kennedy told Burnt Orange Nation in an exclusive interview. “I’m a big, strong kid, pretty athletic for how big I was, but I just kind of got under recruited.”
After some hustle sliding into the DMs of coaches across the country to get his film out — a true bombardment, in his estimation — Kennedy got his big breakthrough on November 28 when Miami became the first Power Five program to extend an offer.
“When Miami actually offered me, it was surreal,” Kennedy said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I got a Power Five offer.’”
A whirlwind of activity ensued.
Missouri and Rutgers offered that same day. Then the visits from coaches started. Florida State’s offensive line coach. Miami’s offensive line coach, former Texas assistant Stacy Searels.
The offers continued to flood in. Cincinnati. Temple. Arizona State. Oklahoma State. Oklahoma. The visits continued with Auburn’s JB Grimes. More offers. Boston College. Arizona.
“This process is entirely different,” Kennedy said. “People told me that I’d be going through the recruiting process again, but, I mean, it’s a different process. I never went through this kind of recruiting process before.”
The visits, calls, calls to the Butler coaches — it’s all completely new for a player coming from an FCS school that offers academic grants instead of scholarships.
“Everybody wants to get recruited until they get recruited,” coaches have told him.
Still, despite all the unprecedented interest, Kennedy is trying to maintain as much space and perspective as possible to appreciate the process, declining almost every interview request and then keeping his potential visit plans to himself so far.
“I’m in a very good position,” Kennedy said. “I’m very blessed by God to be able to be in the position I am. To come from a school like Butler and have opportunities in the Power Five, like Oklahoma, Texas, Miami, schools that I never thought I would have a chance to play at growing up.”
Make no mistake, however — Kennedy has plenty of that aforementioned confidence. He’s watched the film on other offensive tackles at the college level and believes that he’s just as talented.
“I’m better than that guy. That’s just always been my mentality.”
On film, that mentality has caught the eye of Texas co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand, who first reached out to Kennedy on Tuesday. On Thursday, Hand will make his way to the Midwest in hopes of securing a visit from Kennedy.
In fact, Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was in the process of meeting with Kennedy and extending an offer from the Sooners when Kennedy noticed that Hand had followed him and sent a message expressing Hand’s desire to talk to Kennedy.
“I’m excited,” Kennedy said of Hand’s impending visit. “I know his background, I know he’s a really good coach.”
If things go well between Kennedy and Hand, expect Texas to offer and immediately vault into the mix to receive a visit.
“There’s no school like Texas and Austin is an amazing city, too,” he said.
Kennedy and his family took a spring break trip to Austin in high school and Kennedy said that he fell in love with the city, so Hand won’t have to sell Kennedy on that particular aspect of playing for the Longhorns.
Hand sees some key attributes on film that will help Kennedy transition to a higher level of play — good feet, some twitchiness, good timing with his hands, athleticism, and the ability to bend, something that Hand values highly.
So, for the second time in less than a year, Hand needs to make a strong impression on a graduate transfer who could buoy an offensive line that will lose starting left tackle Calvin Anderson, Hand’s former graduate transfer coup at Texas.
“I kind of want to get a vibe from him,” Kennedy said of his expectations for the meeting. “This is a very short window for me to decide on schools, so I kind of have to talk to him and see how he interacts with me to see if we would be a good fit for each other, culture-wise, too, because that’s really important to me when I’m looking at a school. The culture, him, his team, how he is — everything that really plays into my decision making. I have to have a good relationship with the coach because I’m only going to have a short amount of time together.”
In fact, Hand specifically mentioned Anderson in his initial pitch to Kennedy. “This is what we’ve done, he’s got an opportunity to play in the NFL, and I can give you that opportunity as well,” Hand told Kennedy.
Evaluating the resumes of the offensive line coaches pursuing him is a key element of Kennedy’s recruiting process, as well as whether those schools have previous success with graduate transfers. Seeing Anderson’s success at Texas is “huge” for Kennedy. The strength and conditioning staffs and nutritionists will also play a role in Kennedy’s decision, as he understands how much of a difference those areas can make in a short amount of time.
Kennedy said that he does have some visits locked in and plans on releasing them on Thursday after meeting with Hand. Then he’ll take those visits and make his list of pros and cons for each school in an effort to end his recruitment by the early signing period.
When that commitment happens, whether it’s in two weeks or two months, Kennedy will have a chance to write the final chapter of an already remarkable college football career in a way that he never really expected.
“I was hoping just to get grad school paid for and not have to worry about admissions, but now, it’s kind of like, I’m trying to find a spot where I can go and play at the next level, and get my grad school paid for, education is still really important,” Kennedy said.
“But now I feel like I have an opportunity to go play in the NFL. Being able to play on a big stage at Texas, Oklahoma, schools like that, if I play well at that level and excel, I’ll get my shot.”