With the game and perhaps the season on the line, Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley made the play of his career.
Tulane was looking to increase a 24-0 lead against the Midshipmen just before halftime Sept. 19. As Green Wave quarterback Keon Howard zipped a pass toward the end zone, Kinley made a key interception at his team’s own 3-yard line.
That play was a catalyst for Navy’s 27-24 victory, the biggest comeback in program history. The win also came on the heels of an embarrassing 55-3 setback against BYU in the season opener.
As a senior captain, it was just another example of Kinley leading by example and inspiring the rest of his teammates.
“Obviously coming out of the BYU game, we had a very bad taste in our mouths,” Kinley said. “A lot of us haven’t had that bad of a loss in our whole careers of playing football. And I knew right then that that was going to be a pivotal game going into Tulane. It was either we lay down and the rest of the season will follow suit, or we could bounce back, forget about the BYU game and get everything going. The message was really just, ‘The BYU game happened, it’s over. Now it’s about how are we going to respond to adversity.'”
Then came the 24-0 deficit at Tulane, picked to finish sixth in the American Athletic Conference in the league’s preseason media poll.
“I was talking to some of the other captains, specifically Jackson Perkins since he plays defense too,” Kinley said. “I was like, ‘We have to keep everybody’s heads up, we have to keep everybody’s heads up. If we let this go downhill, the rest of the season will follow, and we will have one of the worst seasons in Navy football history.'”
Kinley started 13 games last year, finishing with 38 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and five pass breakups. Prior to this season, Kinley was nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy, given to a player who is active in the community and is successful on the field and in the classroom. The award aims to “honor college football players who serve others, celebrate their positive impact on society and inspire greater service in the world,” according to wuerffeltrophy.org.
Kinley perfectly embodies that spirit. He carried a 3.32 grade-point average into the 2020-21 school year (with a major in political science) and is the Naval Academy Class of 2021 President. Outside the classroom and away from the gridiron, Kinley volunteers his time with We Feed Our People, Maryland Special Olympics, Stanton Community Center, Newtowne Outreach and the Anne Arundel Food Bank.
“He’s done a phenomenal job in our room just by leading not only with his voice and speaking up, but also by example,” Navy cornerbacks coach James Adams said. “The best thing that I feel like the group has done with Cam’s leadership is they’re doing everything I asked them to do, even things that are a little bit different, maybe some things that are outside of the box. … He coaches guys up through it and encourages guys.
“I think for Cam, just being a leader by example more than anything — he knows he’s not perfect and he’ll own that, but he shows up to work every day. Whether he’s having a good day or bad day, he’s here on the grass, giving it his best, showing up early.”
Kinley has also played a key role in the massive turnaround for the Midshipmen defense under coordinator Brian Newberry. Last season, Navy improved to 20th among FBS teams in third down defense (121st in 2018), 10th in rushing defense (90th), 39th in passing defense (75th), 16th in total defense (86th), 34th in scoring defense (103rd), 68th in pass efficiency defense (117th), 55th in sacks (129th in 2018) and 53rd in tackles for a loss (129th).
The Midshipmen also finished 10th in the nation against the run, giving up just 105.8 yards per game despite facing the Nos. 2, 3 and 11 rushing offenses in the country. The Mids got the opposing offense off the field in three plays or less in 36 percent of drives, which was the 10th-best average in the country, and gave up just 15.2 first downs per game, which was tied for third best in the country.
After a dismal performance against BYU, the Midshipmen found their stride against Tulane, holding the Green Wave scoreless in the second half. Through three games this year, Kinley has made 14 tackles.
Despite Kinley’s contributions, Newberry sees room for improvement for the senior.
“From a coverage standpoint, Kinley is long and can run,” Newberry said. “He was solid in that area. Kinley needs to work on his toughness and physicality. He needs to get better at taking on blocks and forcing the run game.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for athletes around the world. Navy didn’t have the luxury of spring practice, and the Mids didn’t tackle during the preseason. The rust clearly showed against BYU, an independent FBS program.
Kinley implored the younger players to stay positive and focused. Now, the Midshipmen are in position to carry on another successful season.
“It’s exciting,” Kinley said. “It definitely has its challenges, but being the guy that everybody looks to during those tough times to kind of just provide that spark, provide that motivation, I embrace it. I embrace being able to be that mentor to the younger guys in the program, not only on the football field but off the football field, in the hall and in the academy.
“[I’m] just trying to be the best that I can for the team to try to put us in the best position to succeed.”
Kinley has the respect of both his teammates and classmates because of his effusive personality and leadership skills. There’s a reason he is the senior class president and a team captain.
“I think it speaks volumes about Cam and the type of person he is. He comes from a great family and they raised a wonderful young man,” said head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who added that Kinley’s position as class president is “a pretty big honor for our football team.”
Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics
Originally published Oct. 14, 2020