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Morgan State players seek football’s highest reward as showcase chances dwindle | COMMENTARY

Linebacker Rico Kennedy is one of Morgan State’s top defenders.
Linebacker Rico Kennedy is one of Morgan State’s top defenders. (Baltimore Sun)

Morgan State middle linebacker Ian McBorrough envisions what it would be like if he and Bears teammate Rico Kennedy make it on an NFL roster before the 2020 season begins.

It wouldn’t be a dream but a blessing for the two players, who are Christians.

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“It would be a huge blessing,” McBorrough said. “We grew up in the program together since we got here, and I think our performance the last three years shows how serious we take this. We played side by side and we wanted this. We’re just operating on faith right now and looking forward to our blessing.”

Even though their agents have been contacted by several pro teams, both players know they are underdogs and will probably get invited to an NFL camp as a rookie free agent. They also have had limited time lifting weights because most gyms have shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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There is more.

Neither player was invited to the NFL scouting combine, and Morgan as well as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Pro Days were cancelled.

It appears as though the NFL will have to cancel the rookie and other minicamps throughout the summer, which cuts down on more time for Kennedy and McBorrough to shine.

Other players might be dismayed or give up. Kennedy and McBorrough just keep praying and grinding.

“You just play the hand you were dealt,” said Kennedy, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Does this virus situation hurt us? Probably, but this just isn’t our problem. It’s the whole world’s problem, and it’s so much bigger than football.

“I’m just willing to do whatever I have to do to make the team, take advantage of the opportunity,” Kennedy said. “I just have to stay ready to be ready so when the phone rings I can take full advantage of the blessing.”

Most sports fans like to see these types of stories. We like the overachievers like Kennedy and McBorrough who might defy the odds. Kennedy’s story is even more special because he withdrew from Army West Point after one year, and played college football at Morgan while married.

His wife, Destinee, moved to Baltimore with Kennedy two years ago and they have two children, Iyanna, 7, and, Ava, 3 months.

Kennedy was special on and off the field.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound outside linebacker was third in the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference last season with 105 tackles averaging 8.8 a game. He had 16 tackles for losses and finished his career at Morgan with 51 of those. His 19 career sacks were the fourth most in school history.

“Rico is a playmaker,” McBorrough said. “He is an edge-rush guy, and he can play in the box, but bringing pressure is where he makes his money. The difference between us is that we can both play in the box, but I can cover while Rico brings that pressure.”

“A lot of the players looked up to Rico because a lot of them couldn’t have handled his situation,” McBorrough said. “Rico is a family man and he had to be mentally tough to handle the responsibility that comes with it.”

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McBorrough started out as a strong-side linebacker in his freshman season and then was moved to weak side for two years.

Last season the Bears moved him to the middle where he led the team in tackles with 111, 65 of those solo. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, the Essex native is projected to play strong side in the NFL but McBorrough doesn’t want to be typecasted.

He can play any of the linebacker positions. Like Kennedy, he just wants a chance.

“I think I have a really good chance of making a team,” McBorrough said. “I am confident as a player but more as a person. I think I represented myself and Morgan well during my time at the school and once I get a chance to play it is going to be an easy choice.”

McBorrough sounds cocky, but he isn’t. According to him, the difference between great and good players is the mental attitude. McBorrough grew up admiring Ravens linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs as well as safety Ed Reed.

He also has a role model from Morgan. A year ago, Bears offensive tackle Joshua Miles was a long shot to make it in the NFL, but was drafted in the seventh round by the Arizona Cardinals.

Miles made the team’s 53-man roster. Both McBorrough and Kennedy talk to him often.

“We talk as much as we can. He is doing his thing and I am doing mine,” said Kennedy of Miles. “He tells me to just keep the faith, this is all part of God’s plan.”

And maybe the plan might be for both to play in the NFL.

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