Before senior cornerback Cameron Kinley arrived at the Naval Academy, he was helping feed the homeless as a high school student at Lausanne Collegiate in Memphis, Tennessee. Around the same time, now-senior slotback Myles Fells was shedding the football jersey off his back and anything else he had to give to children in Little Rock, Arkansas.
As the pandemic raged this summer and fall, Kinley and Fells both took time to mentor kids, mirroring one another more than 100 miles apart. They both got to work on fighting racial injustice and preparing to play football in an unprecedented climate.
The two play opposite roles on the field, but they’re two faces of the same coin. Together, they promote the same message: “Change the narrative.”
“There’s a natural chemistry there, and they balance each other as well,” Kinley’s mother, Candace, said. “They are both great leaders, very strong, and they complement one another. Sometimes you just connect with the person, and I think that’s what happened with Cameron and Myles.”
Though Fells and Kinley first crossed paths at a football camp before their senior year of high school, it was during sports period in their plebe summer that they sparked a bond. Fells and Kinley blended their different flavors of the South through through culture, food and music. The two shared the same sponsor mother too, according to Fells’ mother, Kecia.
“A guy who was raised the right way. He knows how to treat people with respect,” Kinley said of Fells. “Our values align a lot. A lot of that goes to our parents and the way that we were raised, and our upbringings. Being able to connect with somebody who kind of sees situations the way that you see them, it helps a lot at a place like the [Naval] Academy.”
Fells has become more than a great teammate to Kinley. He’s someone Kinley wants at his wedding, to watch his kids some day and to share a presidential ticket once their military service concludes, after they veer into separate career paths and reunite when the timing’s right.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo has no doubt the two seniors will achieve their goals.
On one summer evening, tri-captains Billy Honaker, Jackson Perkins and Kinley, as well as Fells, called the team together. Coronavirus fatigue was creeping into some of the players and Kinley and Fells took it upon themselves to stop little infractions, like hanging out in each others’ rooms.
“I’m just impressed that they would do that to hold the standard and perception for our football team,” Niumatalolo said.
The two understand lessons of leadership both Niumatalolo and the academy instilled in them.
“Anybody can lead when things are going great ... When you lead, you lead through wins and losses,” Niumatalolo said. “You lead through good times, prosperity and adversity. You lead through sickness and health. And that’s how they’re going to have to lead.”
Kinley was named one of 30 nominees for the NCAA’s Senior CLASS Award, a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award and a finalist for the Campbell Trophy, among others. Entering Saturday, the starting cornerback accumulated 87 tackles over four years (58 solo) and played a key role in the defense that kept Army scoreless for most of last year’s game.
Off the field, Kinley has balanced multiple leadership roles at the academy. He’s the Secretary of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a member of the Midshipman Diversity Team and Co-Class President.
Down the road, Niumatalolo could see Kinley returning one day as the Naval Academy superintendent.
Kinley got involved in politics after the cornerback decided science wasn’t for him. His proximity to Washington, D.C., and exposure in classes tuned him into the happenings of the country and the world. Candace Kinley recalls her son particularly enjoyed a class on past presidents.
“That really had him thinking about what it entailed and things from a military perspective, which was all new to him, opened his eyes in a lot of ways,” she said. “He ... realized [college] was preparing him for something bigger.”
It all fell into place for Kinley. He wants to help people and make things happen. He has decent public speaking skills, key to life as a politician. They’re the same traits Kinley already employs as a leader on the football team.
“He loves to inspire people. He loves to help people. He wants the best for people,” his father, Richard Kinley said.
Myles’ father, Kenny, hears his son talk about the ideas Kinley has and the things he’s done — actions that might as well have been his son’s since they were so similar.
Kenny remembers Myles didn’t have the easiest time taking a leadership role within the football program, but as he matured his natural instincts kicked in. The senior started at slotback this year, where he’s posted single-season bests (161 rushing yards) despite issues at quarterback, and enters Saturday with 613 all-purpose yards.
Off the field, Fells remained in charge. Niumatalolo said Kinley and Fells took the lead on most of the team’s Zoom sessions this year.
“Myles is inherently not a background guy. He’ll stay in his lane as designated,” Kecia Fells said. “Starting out, he watched the older guys, but [he was] always the leader from early on. He’s not afraid and won’t shy away from expressing how he feels if he feels comfortable in the setting. And sometimes he’ll push the envelope.”
This summer’s civil unrest, ignited by killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and others, motivated Fells and Kinley to help create the Navy Football Players Council for Racial Equality with veteran assistant Robert “RB” Green and seven other players in June.
“I believe that’s when it finally clued in to him as to what his calling may be,” Kenny Fells said of his son. “I think he’s been toying with the idea for a long time, but he didn’t want to do it because it was too hard. You ask him today, ‘what’s hard?’”
Now, Myles Fells has the answer.
“We do hard things for breakfast,” Fells said. “Give us something impossible.”
The safety of the Naval Academy campus hasn’t made Fells forget what happens at home in Little Rock. Fells lost five friends this summer to primarily gun violence. In the future, Fells intends to become the Governor of Arkansas but also create a “kids’ dream center” in his hometown.
The center, with free admission, would include not only food and safe shelter but tutors, home economics with lessons on how to cook, to pay taxes, get ready for college, invest and save money. There’d be field trips for real-life experiences, video games for the adventures in their heads. Turf fields, basketball courts as well as a pool, so that kids could learn to swim.
“It’d be like an all-purpose place where you could go. You don’t gotta bring your own basketball. They have a basketball. They have a football. You just come there, and it’s an escape from everything else,” Fells said.
A place like this rewards kids with good grades and who stay out of trouble as well as those who don’t. Most times, people are too quick to give up on those kids, Fells said.
“Usually, kids who go through things like that, they feel like they’re not seen or in a trap and can’t get out,” Fells said. “Most times, that is the case. My job when I get out of here is to try to give different avenues and resources to those kids.”
Though Saturday’s game against Army will be a bittersweet goodbye to football for both Kinley and Fells, whose service assignments are Information Warfare Community and Marine Corps Ground, respectively, there’ll be no farewells for one another.
They’re brothers for life, Kinley said. When they come together again, it’ll be to help the world.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kinley said.
Saturday, 3 p.m.
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Line: Army by 7