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Navy senior captain Cameron Kinley looking forward to final meeting with hometown Memphis | NOTES

Navy's Cameron Kinley, seen celebrating a missed field goal by Memphis during a game on Sept. 26, 2019, relishes playing against his hometown team.
Navy's Cameron Kinley, seen celebrating a missed field goal by Memphis during a game on Sept. 26, 2019, relishes playing against his hometown team. (Joe Rondone / AP)

This Saturday night’s game will be special for Navy senior cornerback and tri-captain Cameron Kinley.

Kinley is a Memphis native who attended Lausanne Collegiate School and always looks forward to going against the hometown school that did not recruit him.

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“I love playing against Memphis. It’s been exciting all four years and all the games have been good,” he said. “It’s exciting playing a program you grew up around.”

Kinley grew up playing with or against many of the Memphis players, mentioning Matthew Rhodes, Timothy Taylor, Thomas Pickens, Kylan Watkins and Preston Brady among others.

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“There are definitely a lot of guys on that team that I know and have competed against in the past and it will be good to go against them one more time,” Kinley said.

Kinley did battle with Memphis standout wide receiver Calvin Austin III on both the football field and on the track during four years of high school. He routinely got the assignment of covering Austin, who attended Harding Academy — an archrival of Lausanne Collegiate.

“Calvin has always been a talented player. He’s super-fast and got the best of me in track, of course,” Kinley said. “I remember my junior year he scored like five touchdowns against us.”

Kinley was 0-3 against Harding going into his senior season but helped Lausanne Collegiate turn the tables on the rival in 2016. He is proud of Austin, who received a track and field scholarship to Memphis and was initially a walk-on with the football program.

Austin is having a breakout season as a redshirt junior and leads Memphis with 46 receptions for 820 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 162-pound speedster is coming off a huge game with 10 catches for 173 yards during a 56-14 rout of Stephen F. Austin.

Austin is one of the top sprinters for the Memphis track and field squad, earning second team All-American honors during the 2019 outdoor season. Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield praised Austin’s ability to compete at a high level in two varsity sports, adding it takes dedication and discipline to train year-round.

“Every week we see improvements as Calvin learns how to play wide receiver the right way. He’s learning how to run routes, how to get in and out of his breaks,” Silverfield said. “It’s taken a great amount of commitment and focus on Calvin’s part to really work on his craft.”

Overcoming roster losses

Memphis has seen 12 players leave the program since preseason camp with some transferring, others opting out and some taking personal leaves of absence.

The latest loss is sophomore offensive lineman Titus Jones, who entered the transfer portal this week, sources told The Commercial Appeal. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder from New Orleans appeared in 20 games over two seasons, including seven this season. He was mostly a special teams performer and played against Stephen F. Austin last Saturday.

Running back Kenneth Gainwell and wide receiver Damonte Coxie also opted out for Memphis. Gainwell developed into one of the best tailbacks in the country last season with 2,069 all-purpose yards and was named a second-team All-American by both Sporting News and the American Football Coaches Association. He was chosen Freshman of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America, but the redshirt sophomore has had four family members die from COVID-19 and was not willing to risk getting infected.

Coxie was a two-time second team All-American Athletic Conference selection and concluded his career third all-time at Memphis in receptions (185), receiving yards (2,948) and touchdown catches (20). He has surpassed 100 yards receiving in 11 games, ranking second in program history behind Anthony Miller (17) in that category.

Quarterback Markevion Quinn, wide receiver Coye Fairman and linebacker Tim Hart also opted out of this season, while safety La’Andre Thomas and receiver John “Pop” Williams have taken personal leaves of absence.

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Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) throws against Cincinnati during the first half of a game on Oct. 31 in Cincinnati.
Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) throws against Cincinnati during the first half of a game on Oct. 31 in Cincinnati. (Gary Landers/AP)

Dr. Quarterback

Memphis quarterback Brady White decided following last year’s Cotton Bowl Classic to forego entering the NFL Draft in order to return to school for his final year of eligibility.

Silverfield, who had been promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Mike Norvell left for Florida State, was among the first to learn the news.

“When Brady told me after the Cotton Bowl he was coming for another year, it meant everything to me as a coach,” Silverfield said.

No doubt it was comforting for Silverfield to know he would have a third-year starter leading the offense in his first season at the helm. White is well on his way to owning all the career passing records at Memphis and is a candidate for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Manning Award, both of which recognize the best quarterback in college football.

White has started 35 games with 24 victories, setting the school record for a quarterback. During last Saturday’s rout of Stephen F. Austin, the California native tossed his 82nd career touchdown pass to establish another Memphis mark.

White is on the verge of becoming the all-time leader in passing yards, breaking the record of 10,215 set by Danny Wimprine (2001-04). White currently has 9,707 yards and needs 509 to move into first place.

Norvell served as offensive coordinator at Arizona State before being hired to replace Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech) as Memphis coach. One of his first recruiting coups was to lure White away from Arizona State as a graduate transfer.

Already armed with a bachelor’s degree in business from ASU, White earned a master’s degree in sports and leisure commerce at Memphis and is now pursuing a doctorate degree. He has been a consistent Dean’s List student and Tiger 3.0 Club member based off a stellar grade point average.

“Brady White has meant everything to this program. He is a fantastic human being who is smart and really cares about Memphis football,” Silverfield said.

White likes to hang around the Memphis football building and routinely pops into Silverfield’s office or that of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns. Those two men trust the quarterback implicitly in terms of checking plays at the line of scrimmage based off the defensive alignment.

“It’s like having another coach out on the field,” Silverfield said.

Memphis has been led by three talented quarterbacks since Navy joined the American Athletic Conference – Paxton Lynch, Riley Ferguson and now White. Lynch was selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, while White is highly rated as a professional prospect.

Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo is among many coaches in the AAC that will be happy to see the 6-foot-2, 210-pound gunslinger go.

“It seems like the quarterback has been there forever. I’m like, will this kid please graduate?” Niumatalolo said this week.

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Pipeline to the pros

No American Athletic Conference program has put more skill position players in the pros than Memphis over the last six or seven years.

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There are currently four former Tigers playing running back in the NFL — Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys), Darryl Henderson (Los Angeles Rams), Antonio Gibson (Washington Football Team) and Patrick Taylor (Green Bay Packers).

Silverfield fully expects Gainwell to join that illustrious list in a few years. Meanwhile, Austin’s breakout season has increased the chance he could join Anthony Miller (Chicago Bears) as a wide receiver on an NFL roster.

Lynch lasted four seasons in the league with the Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks and is currently a free agent. The 6-foot-7, 244-pounder played in five games with four starts with Denver.

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