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Nathan Kenion always dreamed of playing in the league.
Kenion, who grew up in Vallejo, was a stud at De La Salle in three different sports. He was nationally ranked in baseball, a star on the basketball court and was one of the top football players in the area – leading De La Salle in touchdowns (24) as a junior before recording another 15 touchdowns and then 100-plus tackles defensively, garnering second team all-state recognition.
However, the major college opportunities were not there. Kenion, a three-year starter and captain for the legendary Spartans program, was not hauling in some of the chances his teammates at De La Salle got – Matt Gutierrez, Maurice Jones-Drew and D.J. Williams all made it to the NFL and were some of his teammates in high school.
In fact, Kenion was the only defensive back on the all-state list who didn’t have a Power Five offer. So, he went to Saint Mary’s College for a couple of years, thinking he would end up at Cal – where he always dreamed of playing as a Bay Area kid – before eventually ending up as a starter at UNLV to cap off his college career.
“To myself, I was able to prove I knew I could play at a level,” Kenion said. “I trusted that I could play at that level and be good at that level. I did it. And then just each step that I took to get there.”
What Kenion’s story shows is one of toughness, one of never giving up even if the opportunities just aren’t there right away. He understands that one needs to be mentally stronger from the Bay Area, as despite being a sensational athlete at De La Salle, he didn’t garner some of the attention that is expected for one of his caliber.
And now he is teaching countless student-athletes these same lessons and giving back to the area he is from, helping mold individuals through top-flight nonprofit ventures like Kenion Training and KT Prep – the latter their 7-on-7 program that was No. 1 in Northern California and No. 3 in the state in 2019.
“Trying to get these kids to understand just being good ain’t good enough,” Kenion said. “That’s a lot of what I preach to them and what I push them to understand is we have to go above and beyond to accomplish what we want to accomplish and get to where we want to get to. That’s definitely the bigger picture, the bigger understanding of someone who’s been in their shoes and walked that life. I’ve been doing it a lot of years, building a lot of relationships. Have a lot of kids come through. I’m pretty realistic with our kids. If they can play at a high level, I tell them.”
“Even if it doesn’t seem that way. We have a kid here actually sitting in front of my that just signed with Florida State and he wasn’t really recruited out of high school due to a couple of different factors. Went JUCO, redshirted a year and now he’s going to go to Florida State and has four years to play because of everything going on.”
Just over a decade ago, Kenion Training was formed, which is the training business that Nathan Kenion runs. He began as a mobile trainer and now trains athletes in a plethora of sports – football, soccer, rugby, you name it.
A few years later, KT Prep was formed in 2012-13. At first, it started off with around 10 players in a few 7-on-7 tournaments, with Nathan Kenion asking if he would be interested in coaching 7-on-7.
He said “sure,” and the rest is history after that – building 40-year plans and then some for all of their student-athletes.
“Had just some knockoff jerseys, miss mash shorts,” Nathan Kenion said. “We were just out there playing. It was all pure fun. Quarterback had to play defense for us. One of the tournaments we had to respectfully bow out because we only had five players left, because two of our players ran into each other.”
More than a game
Now, Kenion Training and KT Prep are renowned in what they do and churn out some of the top athletes across the entire country, but what they are accomplishing goes far beyond the field itself.
Academics and professional careers are strong points of emphasis. They do ACT and SAT prep. They have tutoring for different subjects. They work with them to make sure they are all set for the clearinghouse.
It is of the utmost importance, because when Nathan Kenion was a student, he dealt with some challenges with getting ready for college in regards to he was coming down to those final moments with the clearinghouse.
“This last year we had I think 12 kids where the final number that I think were all under a 3.0 that all finished their spring semester with over a 3.0, and some of them went as high as a 3.8, from like a 2.8, a 2.6,” Nathan Kenion said. “I definitely feel like the emphasis and the conversations we have with them from an academic standpoint definitely help, and then outside of that college tours.”
Typically, they hit around 20 college campuses to visit – most in the Bay Area or Los Angeles region.
Additionally, there is a trip to Nevada when they play in a tournament in Mesquite. That’s only about an hour away from Dixie State, so they visit that campus. What they want to do is give them the college experience and teach them all of what one can do as a student – getting involved through clubs, internships, organization.
When they go on those college tours, all of their student-athletes are in dress clothes.
“Get used to dressing up,” Nathan Kenion said. “Like, ‘Hey you want someone to give you six figures, dress like you want six figures. Don’t show up with sweatpants hanging off your butt.’ Kind of walk them through the progressions of how things come across. They understand. Most of them are thinking of that, but getting them into the mindset of that.
“What we found to be really cool is we’ve had quite a few of our kids go on visits. Obviously without us, individually, with schools and they’ll be the only kid there dressed up. And they’ll be like, ‘Hey, man, the coaches pointed me out. They made a point of saying we’re going to remember you because you came ready. You’re sharp.’ Just stuff like that.”
It’s all about ensuring they are successful beyond high school and college, giving them a glimpse into different career paths and helping individuals find their dream job.
They’ve been able to tour the Seattle Seahawks facility. There’s been a trip to the NFL Network, thanks to the connection from Jones-Drew. There’s been the trip to Adidas, thanks again to their strong connection and relationship with the company.
There were supposed to be visits to Google and Facebook in May of this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to those exciting plans.
“That’s kind of where we’re headed with this is really getting them out and getting them into the realm to where they’re able to really see what’s all out there,” Nathan Kenion said. “Some of the things that you’d be surprised that happen is a lot of the kids that we work with, most of them are unaware that you could go get a regular job at Facebook or Google or something like that and make just as much as a rookie NFL contract. It’s kind of like really opening up their minds to, ‘Hey, find something you like. Find something you enjoy. Don’t chase the paycheck. Do what you love, and the money will come.’”
Nathan Kenion may never have gotten his chance in the NFL, but he is thankful and happier than he ever could have imagined to provide life-changing experiences like he is now.
The alumni list for them is massive. It includes Terron Ward, De La Salle’s all-time leading rusher. NFL tight end Austin Hooper. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener. Major Leaguer Johnny Tucker. The list goes on and on.
Some current members committed to the college ranks in the past week. Napa tight end Brock Bowers, ranked as a top 50 overall recruit by 247Sports, pledged to Georgia on Monday and is joining one of the top programs in all of college football. Meanwhile, De La Salle receiver Lu-Magia Hearns, a three-star recruit by 247Sports, announced he will play at Cal last week.
And the results aren’t just shown on the field. They are also found in the classroom and the ensuing decades, as Nathan Kenion and his team embody what it means to give back and mentor individuals so that they can have long and prosperous careers in whichever path they choose.
It’s more than just a game.
It’s the Kenion Training way.
“It’s been everything,” Nathan Kenion said. “I told my wife and a couple other people is obviously I wanted to have a lengthy career playing in the NFL or something like that, but I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now and I wouldn’t having being able to help influence as many as kids, coaches, people as I’ve been able to help if I had done that. Everyone has their kind of things set out for them, and for me I could say it’s honestly been more fulfilling, my life has been more fulfilling to help people as opposed to if I had made it to the NFL and made millions.
“Yeah, it would have taken care of my problems definitely, we would have been set up differently, but to help someone other than just your immediate I think does a lot for the soul. It’s been everything for me.”
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