John Tyler junior Da’Quaylon Kennedy wasn’t on many people’s radar at the start of the season.
A first-year varsity player not expected to start, the safety didn’t record a single tackle in the first game of the season before eventually hitting his stride as District 16-5A play began.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s exactly when the Lions began to find their form.
“It took Kennedy about three to four weeks into the season to really get his understanding of what needs to go on,” JT coach Ricklan Holmes said. “He had a good idea of what to do, but he just wasn’t consistent enough doing it.”
Sounds a lot like the Lions as a whole.
Call him the John Tyler microcosm.
Kennedy is now third on the team in tackles with 75, trailing only fellow safety Bryston Gipson (93) and linebacker Shaundrick Williams (77), both returning starters. Kennedy is also second on the team with three interceptions.
Not bad for a player who spent the early parts of the season adjusting to the speed of the varsity game.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t expecting to play, but I wasn’t expecting to come in and be a starter because the way my season started, it wasn’t as good,” Kennedy said. “It was kind of bumpy trying to learn everything coming from JV.”
Kennedy is one of a number of varsity newcomers making an impact for the Lions (8-3), who face Mansfield Lake Ridge (11-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Forney in the Class 5A Division I area playoffs.
Players like seniors James Allen and Alex Bridges and juniors Javontavius Mosley and Joshua Parker have made an impact in their first season on varsity after.
Kennedy may be the biggest revelation, quickly earning the starting job after the Lions started the season 0-3.
“It made me feel like I actually changed the outcome of the game instead of just watching it,” Kennedy said of becoming a starter.
With Kennedy’s ascent, Texas commit Damion Miller has been able to concentrate full time on playing receiver. Kennedy has slotted in seamlessly with Gipson as the last line of defense.
“I see him as like an older brother, someone I can lean on and when things get tough in a game I can always count on him to be there,” Kennedy said of Gipson, a third-year letterman.
Holmes said he hasn’t been surprised by Kennedy’s production because of his physicality. At 5-10, 148 pounds, Kennedy won’t overpower many with his size, but he has the mentality to be a tenacious tackler.
“Tackling is a desire,” Holmes said. “You have to have a desire to run into another person and do it fearlessly and that’s the kind of player that he is.”
Kennedy’s tackling was vital on Saturday in the bi-district playoff against Texas High and running back Jakardi Witcher.
Witcher was coming off a 250-yard explosion and with his speed is liable to break loose on a long run at any time. On Saturday Witcher had three runs of 10 or more yards, none going further than 16 yards.
On two of those runs, Witcher had one man to beat: Kennedy. Both times, Kennedy won, preventing what would have been 50-plus-yard touchdown runs.
“It makes me feel like I’m actually doing my job, keeping them out of the end zone,” Kennedy said. “If something breaks down in the first two levels of the defense I’m always there to make the tackle.”
Added Holmes: “That changes the course of the game. It swings the momentum back in our favor. With plays like that, that’s what separates the good teams from the great teams.”
LIONS TALES: Tickets for the John Tyler-Mansfield Lake Ridge game at City Bank Stadium will be sold on campus to students and faculty Thursday and Friday. Additional ticket sales will be at the TISD athletic office (807 W. Glenwood) Thursday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday. Presale tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students. Gate tickets cost $8.