Kennedy fights his way back onto gridiron

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Naugatuck High grad Mike Kennedy (17) has become a defensive leader for the Anna Maria College Amcats in his sophomore year. Kennedy lost out on his senior year of high school football after tearing his ACL, but battled through the injury to return to the gridiron. -DAVID SHERIDAN

There are two outcomes in the pursuit of athletic excellence: Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But there is the variable about which is far less spoken. Injuries occur that can alter the course of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Naugatuck resident Mike Kennedy has seen it from all sides. Entering his senior year at Naugatuck High, Kennedy was just four months away from living out his childhood dream of playing in the Thanksgiving Day football game against archrival Ansonia.

It took just one play in a mid-August preseason scrimmage game against Wilby that changed the course of his career. Kennedy suffered an ACL injury that wiped out his senior football season and relegated him to the sidelines on crutches for the Thanksgiving game in which he so wanted to play.

Kennedy was not one to look for sympathy or pity about his plight, a strong characteristic not always found in such a young man, as he stood with crutches supporting his 6-foot, 215-pound frame on that Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

“Sometimes you need to move on and accept the next challenge that life has to offer,” Kennedy said. “Coach (Rob) Plasky told me to suit up for the game and it was my last time in a Naugy uniform.”

The prospect of Kennedy ever putting on another football uniform was not very promising. But a successful surgery followed by a stringent regimen of physical therapy had Kennedy ready for the baseball season.

“I worked hard to get back and get myself in shape for my final baseball season,” Kennedy said. “That offered me a little hope that maybe one day I could get back on the football field.”

That opportunity came when Kennedy enrolled at Bridgton Academy, a college prep school in Maine.

“I was playing with and against players who were all-state in the towns they were from and I held my own,” Kennedy said. “I did pretty well and a couple of Division 1-A and 1-AA (schools) came to see me play. My dad, Mike Sr., is my best friend and he came along with me for every recruiting visit. I settled on Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass. They are a new program but I felt it was the best fit for me.”

In his freshman year at Anna Maria the Amcats of the Eastern College Football Conference went 2-8 on the season. Kennedy was slotted at defensive end and played in seven games, recovering two fumbles.

This past season the former Greyhound was seventh on the team in tackles with 30, second in sacks at 2 ½ and second with 8 ½ tackles for negative yardage.

“Mike’s abilities have translated into a leadership role on the defensive line,” Anna Maria head coach Vince Sinagra said. “His confidence level has improved now that his knee is better. That is a big obstacle to overcome even for a professional player. He stayed healthy this season and became a leader on the defense. He has grown up as a man and we are looking forward to him becoming a real team leader over the next two years.”

When he began his sophomore season this year there was talk of switching him to tight end. Kennedy successfully advocated staying on defense, where he excelled and made an impact on the team.

“I was voted a game captain twice this season and for only being a sophomore that was a huge step in my collegiate career,” Kennedy said. “I was always a vocal leader on the field at Naugatuck and I’m beginning to feel comfortable to be the same kind of leader here.”

Sinagra could see how the Kennedy family’s strength helped Mike get back on the field and be better than ever.

“I think what has helped Mike tremendously is the fact that he has incredible family support,” Sinagra said. “His dad is our biggest fan and his grandfather is at every game. That is a real good atmosphere to thrive in and we are certainly looking forward to bigger and better things for Mike.”

Mike credits his family, too.

“My family has been a huge support to me,” he said. “Our defensive coach told me he loves when my dad goes to the games, he is so into it. We have both traveled this journey together through the rehab and the recruiting trips and to be back on the field is just a great feeling. I’m so looking forward to the next two years and making an impact on the defense to help Anna Maria become a leader in the conference.”