Morgan State linebacker Rico Kennedy with his wife Destinee and 6-year-old daughter Iyanna. Kennedy his balancing family and football while leading the Bears' defense.
Morgan State linebacker Rico Kennedy with his wife Destinee and 6-year-old daughter Iyanna. Kennedy his balancing family and football while leading the Bears' defense. (Kennedy family photo)

A typical day for Rico Kennedy begins as early as 5 a.m. with Morgan State football practice, film sessions and classes keeping him away from home until 9 p.m. But walking through that door is a refreshing feeling for the redshirt senior linebacker because he knows his wife and daughter are waiting for him.

“Whenever I feel like I haven’t had a good practice, I come home to my wife and my daughter, and to see them smile, I leave all my problems at the door,” he said. “Actually, my wife makes sure I leave all my problems at the door. So, being a father is great.”

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The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Kennedy wears many labels. He is son to Yolanda and Arthur, husband to Destinee, and father to 6-year-old Iyanna with another daughter to be named Ava Rae expected in December. He is a construction management major on pace to graduate in the spring. And he is the starting strong-side linebacker in the Bears’ 4-3 defensive front, which will be tested by Army’s triple-option offense Saturday in West Point, N.Y.

Kennedy was named to the preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team after leading last year’s Bears in tackles for loss (10), tying for second in sacks (4½) and ranking third in tackles (61). He ranks first this fall in tackles for loss (two) and second in tackles (19). Tyrone Wheatley, who became Morgan State’s coach in February, has already learned a lot about Kennedy.

Linebacker Rico Kennedy is one of Morgan State's top defenders.
Linebacker Rico Kennedy is one of Morgan State's top defenders. (Courtesy of Morgan State)

“He’s a guy that really wants to do well,” the former Michigan and NFL running back said. “He’s a sponge. Always in the office, always asking for help to get better, a guy that wants to be coached.

“He’s one of those guys in his last year of football that understands this could be it for him. So he’s trying to utilize every resource that’s possible and that’s readily available for him. I just really appreciate that about him. He’s trying to be a leader, trying to be vocal and he has stepped up in that department really well for us.”

The 23-year-old Kennedy and his wife — who met as students at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — have had to assume leading roles since 2013, when they learned they would welcome a child. In November of that year, Iyanna was born.

To avoid saddling his then-girlfiend and parents with a financial burden, Kennedy enrolled at Army Prep for the 2014 season. But what he described as “family issues” forced him to leave school. Shortly after praying on Jan. 1, 2015 for guidance, he was contacted by Morgan State, which eventually offered him a full scholarship.

Kennedy redshirted the 2015 season before emerging as a steady contributor in his first three years. During that time, he lived in Baltimore while Destinee and Iyanna stayed in Florida.

“It was definitely rough,” Kennedy said. “I’m big on family. But you’ve got to do the things you need to do. It’s not a sacrifice. I just had to be locked in and focused.”

Destinee said she and Rico FaceTimed every night, usually falling asleep while talking. But in March 2018, Destinee and Iyanna moved to Baltimore, and father and mother married.

“It’s very different as far as being on the phone,” Destinee, 23, said. “He can say, ‘I’m going to practice. I’ll talk to you later.’ But now he’s going to practice and coming home to us, and it’s amazing. It’s the best feeling. As a wife, you want to come home to your husband, and your husband wants to come home to you. So I think this is the best time of our lives. We love it.”

If juggling exams, game plans and play dates are exhausting, Kennedy has never complained, according to senior middle linebacker Ian McBorrough.

“It just goes to show you how much Rico loves the game of football and how much he cares about what we’re doing,” said McBorrough, an Essex resident and Eastern Tech graduate. “Anybody else in that situation might not be able to balance everything, but he shows up every day and gives his all.”

Kennedy said he is able to concentrate on school and football because of his wife, who is six months pregnant, taking online courses at Broward College in Florida, majoring in criminal justice, and working at a sleep clinic in Glen Burnie.

“My wife is my everything, she’s the backbone,” he marveled. “She helps me out with a lot of things. She knows that when I’m in-season, she takes on more. She’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got to take care of the household,’ so that I can be as comfortable as I can be while I’m still doing the things that I need to do for the family. I have a great partner.”

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Destinee acknowledged she has a full plate, but said her objective is helping her husband reach his goal of graduating and pursuing a career in the NFL or elsewhere.

“I know the role that I took on being a wife, and it’s more than just, ‘I need to do this for him,’ ” she said. “I know he’s playing football and taking an opportunity to take care of our family. So I’m doing what I have to do right now.”

Saturday will mark the second time in four years that Morgan State will visit Army, which is bittersweet for Kennedy after his best friend at Army Prep, Brandon Jackson, died in a car accident on Sept. 10, 2016.

“I think about him every day,” said Kennedy, who wears Jackson’s No. 28 jersey and had the words “Long Live 28” tattooed on his left ribs. “I’m trying my best to control [my emotions] and be locked in and focused. It’s kind of hard because sometimes my mind wanders, but I’m focused.”

Although this is his final season with the Bears, Kennedy denied feeling any sense of pressure to propel the program to its first MEAC championship since 2014.

“I just want to be a complete player and bring the best aspect of my game,” he said. “Me and Ian McBorrough, we talk every day, and we just want to go to the next level and be everything and do everything we can for this team.

“We want to leave a legacy that’s going to be remembered forever. So I just try to attack every game like it’s my last and do whatever they ask of me. I just go out there and play. I’m not even thinking about that, to be honest with you. I’m just going out there and doing my thing.”

MORGAN STATE@ARMY

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