Richie Kenney thought he was going to be a center when he first started playing football at 7 years old.
He was a center on an all-star team one year when a coach liked his long snapping abilities and prompted him to stand up and throw a pass. A lot of kids at that age aren’t polished passers. Young Kenney looked the part.
Fast forward a decade and Kenney is the lead signal caller at Lambert High School. The Longhorns are coming off an 8-3 season that tilted sideways at the worst possible moment—in the postseason.
Kenney quarterbacked Lambert through an 8-1 start as a junior—they were undefeated in Region 6-6A play before running into a wall during the de facto region title game against South Forsyth in the final game of the regular season—a 31-6 defeat.
The Longhorns couldn’t bounce back in the playoffs, falling 35-13 to Collins Hill.
Even though last season was full of great memories, Kenney is anxious to get the season started. As the program’s leader under center he has put it on his shoulders this upcoming year to get Lambert farther than it ever has before.
The Longhorns, which started playing a varsity schedule in 2010, have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
“We’ve plateaued the last few years as a program so we’re trying to take the next step, win playoff games and finish strong,” Kenney said. The quiet, calm upperclassmen says both players and coaches have been open about the admission that the team hasn’t been able to get over the next hump.
So Kenney spent the offseason trying to do more—in every aspect of his game. Whatever was routine before would not be routine anymore. Obsessing over football, he thinks, is the key to improving his game and hopefully those around him.
“I have been doing a ton of extra film sessions to make sure that I don’t just know my responsibilities, but that I know everyone else’s,” Kenney said. “To understand what my offensive line is doing at all times, to know what the defenses are doing. Everything.”
Last year Kenney, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards and eight touchdowns, but seven interceptions loomed large. His season was all about balance. He says that, especially now that he’s older, he has learned to act as a thermostat of sorts on the sidelines—don’t get too high, don’t get too cold. While celebrations or frustrations might brew around him, he takes pride in being in control at all times.
“I like being the leader. I like being the quarterback. It’s all mental,” Kenney said. “I get a little fired up out there but for the most part I try to keep it calm as much as possible.”
It’s hard not to be calm with the stable of running backs behind him. While other county teams are running spread offenses and throwing more than ever, Lambert remains as the smashmouth group that can play as much as five tailbacks in a game. The Longhorns had seven varsity tailbacks carry the rock last year.
“We have so many running backs,” Kenney laughed. “It’s non-stop. I’d like to throw a bit more but if we’re running and it’s working that’s fine, why change?
“Last year we had an extremely talented line and that made my job easier. I had time to get through my reads, running backs got to their spots. This year I might have to step it up and make plays.”
Lambert says goodbye to big time offensive linemen in Sean Bailey, Anthony Ratliff, Nick Nieuwhof and Jason Regulski. With the group up front retooled, Kenney has put more of an emphasis on his own skills.
“I’m not the fastest or the strongest, but I try to beat the enemy mentally,” Kenney said.
Kenney is smart, for sure. He’s spent time at camps as far north as Boston College and west as Samford working on showcasing his talents and brains to coaches. So far he has offers from Old Dominion and Davidson, but hopes to break through and reel in more attention during his final fall at Lambert.
“I don’t want to overlook my senior season,” Kenney said. “I have been talking to other schools. I feel like there’s so much more that I could do. I don’t want my teammates to think I’m focused on college. I want Lambert to be my priority.”