When Derion Kendrick takes the field Saturday for the annual Shrine Bowl all-star game it will signal a major transition in the Rock Hill teenager’s life.
Kendrick’s mom, Shenekia McClinton, his three siblings and other family members will watch the South Pointe Stallion football star, known to most as just “D.K.”, play his final high school football game. But in a way, the game against North Carolina’s best players will signal the beginning of the next phase.
“I don’t know that they’re hearing me, but this is not a high school football game Saturday,” said South Carolina Shrine Bowl head coach Dave Gutshall. “This is a college football game. They’ll be 11 Division I players on the other side. But he’s special, he’ll still make plays.”
Kendrick is a special football player, and his talents have created a very busy next month, one full of change. He’s switching positions on the football field, playing in two all-star games, graduating high school, then enrolling at Clemson and beginning college. Oh, and he’s celebrating his mother and younger brother’s birthday, and Christmas. All in about 30 days.
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“He has so much going on,” said McClinton. “This month alone has just been crazy.”
“Just getting my feeling back”
Kendrick, fresh off leading the Stallions to a fourth straight state title and winning South Carolina Gatorade Football Player of the Year, finally has “WR” listed next to his name on rosters, after spending the last two seasons as the Stallions’ quarterback. But that wasn’t a distinction Gutshall cared about.
“We picked him to be everywhere,” said the longtime Dorman coach. “We’re gonna try to give him the football and let him make things happen. If somebody asked me what he plays, I’d say everything but offensive line.”
During Wednesday’s practice, Kendrick, who is expected to play slot receiver at Clemson, took snaps at quarterback, ran wildcat and option plays, lined up at all three receiver spots and even slotted in at running back a few times.
“Just like all the other South Pointe guys,” said York’s Bobby Carroll, who is coaching South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl linebackers this week. “He might be a little faster than the guys I coached. When I’m around him, great kid. So is Eli Adams. They play hard, they play at a different speed.”
There was no period of adjustment to wide receiver needed, as Carroll first suggested two years ago. Kendrick, who excelled as a pass-catcher during his sophomore year at South Pointe, seemingly woke up one morning last week a receiver again.
“It’s been good, I’m used to it from previous years,” he said. “Just getting my feeling back.”
Watch Derion Kendrick catch three TD passes as a sophomore against Northwestern:
“Everything you hear about him is true”
Although Kendrick primarily played QB the last two years, he attended prospect camps as a wide receiver and always got a few receiver repetitions during summer 7-on-7s and fall practices. He caught a 44-yard pass this season on a trick play, and his Clemson orange receiver gloves were always within reach.
Kendrick’s Shrine Bowl teammates had heard plenty about his ability before this week. Reality has backed up all the talk about the future Clemson Tiger.
“He’s an excellent route runner, he always goes hard, he always cheers his teammates on. He’s just an excellent guy, man. Fun to be around,” said Dillon safety Ty’quan Porter.
“He’s one of the best receivers, probably, in the country,” said North Myrtle Beach cornerback Tyler Gore, who is committed to Georgia State. “And everything you hear about him is true. He can run clean routes, catch every ball that’s thrown to him, and like Ty’quan said, he’s an incredible guy.”
Shrine Bowl players and coaches knew much less about Kendrick’s personality, how he works within the team dynamic.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with is he practices full-speed all the time,” said Gutshall. “We’re trying to get guys to practice full-speed and that hasn’t happened with all of them to this point.”
Bobby Carroll talks about Shrine Bowl coaching experience and Tahj Reid-Stanley’s injury:
“It’s getting close”
Stuck in traffic Thursday night, Shenekia McClinton had plenty of time to talk about her oldest.
“I was kind of young when I had him so you could kind of say we grew up together, somewhat,” McClinton said. “It’s just a different relationship that we have.”
Their relationship will be tested in the coming months and years by the distance between them and their hectic schedules. The first week of January, for example, Kendrick plays in the Army All-American Bowl Jan. 6 in San Antonio. The next day, the family will return to Rock Hill and move him into his dorm room at Clemson. Freshman orientation is Jan. 8 and classes start two days later. Whirlwind.
“It’s getting close,” Kendrick said Wednesday. “It’s a good feeling getting away from your hometown and just going to represent them and playing for your family.”
He isn’t sure who he’s living with yet. He said he’ll hang some photos of his mom and his siblings and maybe some of his Rock Hill Cowboys youth football jerseys on the walls. McClinton loves to decorate and she’s put herself in charge of her son’s dorm room decor.
“I actually asked if I can move into the dorm,” she joked. “It’s got granite and stainless steel appliances. The whole nine yards, it’s very nice.”
“Have to let him go”
Kendrick will be finished with high school next week but doesn’t actually graduate until June, when he’ll walk across the stage with his South Pointe classmates and lifelong friends. After Jan. 7, there is a strong chance Kendrick doesn’t return to Rock Hill until high school graduation.
“Well, I got a taste of that this week,” said McClinton.
Kendrick has been in Spartanburg with the S.C. Shrine Bowl squad since Sunday. He’s talked on the phone every night with his mom about how the day went, how he misses his brother and two sisters.
“Can’t hold on to him,” McClinton said. “I just have to let him go and grow up.”
A Clemson graduate assistant coach named Xavier Dye will help Kendrick navigate his first semester of college. Clemson’s football staff is so immense that Dye doesn’t even warrant a mention in its staff listing on the athletic department’s website. There is a “performance chef”, though it’s unlikely she can make cube steak and rice as well as Deloris McClinton, Kendrick’s grandmother. It’s his favorite thing to eat.
But the immense support system that Kendrick is about to step into, the Clemson football bubble, gives McClinton great comfort.
“I think he’ll handle it pretty well, and I’m very confident in Clemson’s coaching staff,” she said. “They’ve just been very open, made him feel like he was family. I think those guys will really help him develop into a great young man. I don’t have any concerns there.”
Come February, Kendrick will hit a stride with college life and his family back in Rock Hill will do the same. They’ve just got to get to February first.
“It’ll be rewarding,” said McClinton. “It’s what we’ve been looking forward to since he was a kid out there playing ball.”
2017 Shrine Bowl
Derion Kendrick will be joined by South Pointe teammate Eli Adams and Northwestern offensive lineman K.D. Canaty in representing South Carolina in Saturday’s Shrine Bowl. York’s Tahj Reid-Stanley had to withdraw because of a hip injury. The game starts at 2 p.m. at Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium and will be aired live on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app, and shown on ESPNU at a later date.