His college football career hasn’t panned out quite like he expected, but that won’t keep Alex Kenney from coming back and giving it another go where it all started.
Kenney, a standout track and field athlete and football star who helped State College High School to the PIAA Class AAAA championship game in 2009, will return Saturday to Beaver Stadium where he once looked to continue his gridiron stardom. He’ll do so as a member of Penn State’s opponent — the Massachusetts Minutemen.
“I’m just looking at it as just another game,” Kenney said. “Although it’s exciting to go back home, it won’t be too difficult to just block everything out and just go out and play because at the end of the day, it’s no different from last week.”
But that’s not entirely true.
UMass (0-3) played Vanderbilt a week ago and Kenney didn’t grow up in Nashville. He didn’t excel in the shadow of the Commodores’ stadium like he did in State College, where Beaver Stadium is just a few minutes from his family’s home. With more questioning, Kenney began to open up in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a strange experience,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
The speedy receiver who finished his senior year at State High with 1,175 rushing yards, 475 receiving yards and 29 total touchdowns, never saw much action as a Nittany Lion. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2010 and played in just 20 games over the next three seasons. Kenney caught 20 passes for 197 yards and added five kickoff returns for 87 yards.
He announced his plans to transfer in January, but joined Penn State’s indoor track and field team for his final semester. Kenney ran the 60- and 200-meter dashes. Kenney is tied for fourth in Penn State history with a 6.81-second performance in the 60.
“It was a great experience and I was able to meet a lot of new friends and travel to a lot of places that I never had the opportunity to go to, and I had a blast running,” Kenney said.
Kenney thought he’d have more success playing football for Penn State, however.
His most productive season came in 2012. Then, Kenney played in 11 games and started one. He caught 17 passes for 172 yards and returned four kickoffs for 71 yards. His playing time dwindled in former coach Bill O’Brien’s second season. Kenney said he wasn’t able to pinpoint why he spent most of last season on Penn State’s sideline.
“To be 100 percent honest with you, I can’t really say,” Kenney said. “I think the coaching staff had another plan. They wanted to go a different route, so I had to seek an opportunity elsewhere.”
UMass gave him that opportunity. Kenney knew a trip to Penn State was on the horizon when he decided to join the Minutemen, too.
“I did know that the trip was looming and it was kind of like a bonus for me,” Kenney said.
So far, Kenney has already doubled his starts from his Penn State days. Kenney started UMass’s first two games and has played in all three. He’s caught one pass for 14 yards and has one kickoff return for 25 yards.
Penn State players are plenty familiar with Kenney’s speed. Cornerback Trevor Williams mentioned Kenney as a player Penn State will have to be wary of on special teams.
“He was a great athlete here for us,” Williams said. “We had a great relationship with Alex Kenney when he was here, but nothing’s going to change. It’s still the game of football.”
Austin Whipple, a former walk-on quarterback at Penn State, also transferred to UMass in the offseason. Kenney said joining the team at the same time as Whipple helped him assimilate to a new environment. On Saturday, they’ll both be returning to a familiar one.
For Kenney, it was the only one he knew for the majority of his career.
“He’s been as competitive as he was at Penn State and always brings a good, competitive energy every week,” Whipple said. “This game probably means a little bit more but it’s still the same approach every week and he’s been doing really good so far.”