Dec. 19, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- UW senior Lance Kendricks learned the meaning of “mentoring” at a very early age. When he was entering his teens, he helped a youngster who was dealing with some physical disabilities and struggling in the classroom.
Prodded for more information, Kendricks said, “I was in elementary school. So I was about 11, I want to say. And there was this young guy I used to mentor – just helped him out with math and reading and stuff. It was a long time ago.”
That was the equivalent of a speech from Kendricks, who has always been somewhat reticent about sharing too much. But in this case, he volunteered that he had also served in a mentoring role with his dad, Leon.
“He had a stroke when I was real young,” Kendricks said. “He was getting back to health, rehabbing and stuff and I helped him out with that, too. I was real young. It just kind of, I guess, came natural to try and help out wherever I can.”
Leon and Linda Kendricks will be present Sunday when the youngest of their four boys, Lance, walks across the stage and picks up his diploma. Lance Kendricks will share this distinction with a number of his UW teammates.
Also graduating are Isaac Anderson, Niles Brinkley, John Moffitt, Bill Nagy, Culmer St. Jean, and Jay Valai. Together, they are some of the core players who have led the Badgers to a Big Ten title and a date in the Rose Bowl against TCU.
“Barry Alvarez has talked to us so many times about how great the Rose Bowl is, and I can’t wait to find out,” said Kendricks, citing the former UW football coach and current athletic director. “I’m sure it will be overwhelming.”
Kendricks feels like a spoke in the UW wheel. As such, he has always been quick to credit others for his development in a creative offense that maximizes the tight end and H-Back positions by creating mismatches in coverage.
Consider his mentors: Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham.
Although Kendricks (a converted wide receiver) didn’t play with Daniels (a converted quarterback), he studied his various skills on tape and came away impressed with his route-running ability and presence as a deep threat.
Beckum, like Kendricks, was from the Milwaukee area, so there was more of a natural bond off the field. Maybe the biggest thing that Kendricks took from Beckum was his receiving acumen and play-making ability.
Graham was well-rounded – adept at blocking the edge of the defense on a sweep or beating a linebacker on a seam route. Kendricks credited Graham for helping him understand the nuances of the run setting up the pass.
The mentoring didn’t stop there. “My older brothers,” Kendricks said, “always set the example for me: what to do, and what not to do.”
Donte Kendricks, 40, works for the police department in Chula Vista, Calif. He’s a detective. “And he’s on the SWAT team,” Lance said. “When he comes home, he always has stories, these crazy stories, it’s great.”
What was Donte’s influence? “Because he was so much older than me, he always gave me the type of advice my dad would give me,” Lance said. “I played soccer when I was really young and he always encouraged me to play football.”
Leon Kendricks, 30, is a mechanical engineer for Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee. “He played fullback and linebacker,” Lance said, “and that’s where I got my football mentality, my football genes.”
Landon Kendricks, 28, is the closest in age to Lance. “If I had a game or something to do or had to get somewhere at a certain time, he was always willing to do it,” Lance said. “He was very supportive.”
Like his parents.
Linda Kendricks works for the school district. Strong lady. “Having four boys you’d pretty much have to be,” said Lance, grinning.
His dad, Leon, is a retired machinist. When asked if he was the strong silent type, he laughed and said, “My dad is not quiet at all. He gets his words out.”
And those words still resonate with his son.
“He always made sure I stayed on the right path,” Lance said. “He didn’t really push me towards the right path as much as he told me, ‘You should do this, if you don’t, you’re going to see what happens.’ Do the right thing the right way.”
Football, in this context, has become a form of self-expression for the soft-spoken Kendricks, who has exhibited his artistry as a game-changing receiver and devastating blocker on his own personal canvas, the playing field.
But he has expressed in himself in other ways, too – through his drawings and paintings. “My older brothers all draw and I sort of picked it up from them when I was real young,” said Kendricks whose charcoal self-portrait used to hang in his high school, Milwaukee Rufus King.
Prior to enrolling at the UW, Kendricks won first place in the 4th Congressional District Art contest sponsored by the Congressional Arts Caucus. His entry “Color Wheel” was displayed in the Cannon tunnel, a passageway between the House office buildings and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
This season, Kendricks had his heart set on hanging his name on the prestigious list of John Mackey award winners.
He was one of three finalists with Missouri’s Michael Egnew and Arkansas’ D.J. Williams, who won the Mackey.
Was he disappointed? Did he take it in stride?
“A little bit of both,” he said. “You kind of brush it off with, ‘Ok, you didn’t win the award.’ At that same time, it was my goal. In the back of your head, you’re thinking, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to win this award.’
“When you don’t win, it’s kind of, ‘Move on and play the next game.’”
Which he will do in the Rose Bowl, a canvas like no other.