How Tennessee football's Brandon Kennedy became a finalist for the 'Academic Heisman' award
Tennessee offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy was working at one of his two internships Thursday when the National Football Foundation announced that he had been selected as one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman.
As a finalist, Kennedy becomes a NFF National Scholar-Athlete, the seventh in program history.
“It was a great accomplishment,” Kennedy said in an interview with Knox News. “I was very excited to even have an opportunity to be a finalist.”
Kennedy is one of three Power 5 athletes to be named a finalist, joining Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and Washington defensive back Elijah Molden.
A fifth-year senior, Kennedy has started at center every game this season. He is on pace to earn a master's degree in agricultural leadership education and communications in December. That will be his third degree.
Kennedy began his college career at Alabama, where he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in biology in three years, graduating with a 3.55 GPA. He joined Tennessee as a graduate transfer in June 2018 and earned a master's degree in sports psychology and motor behavior in December 2019.
“Brandon is the epitome of what it means to be a student-athlete,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a news release. “His leadership on and off the field have been invaluable to our program. I am excited that his hard work has been rewarded with the prestigious honor of being a Campbell Trophy finalist.”
Each of the 12 Campbell Trophy finalists will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. The finalist who is named the winner of the Campbell Trophy later this year will have his postgraduate scholarship increased to $25,000.
What does a guy with three degrees do with a postgraduate scholarship?
“Depending on what happens after this season, I may consider getting my doctorate and maybe put the money toward that,” Kennedy said. “That would be nice. I haven’t really decided, but I’m thankful for it. I love sports psychology, so it would most likely be in that.”
Kennedy is doing a two-part internship this semester. He spends one day a week with Tennessee’s player development staff, and he interns on Thursdays with Dr. Joe Whitney, a UT sports psychologist.
“When you think about sports psychology, it’s kind of how athletes use their minds for them and not against them when they’re out there on the field,” said Kennedy, who would like to become a sports psychologist or work in player development after his playing career concludes.
Kennedy, a native of Wetumpka, Alabama, has had a knack for academics since elementary school. He credits his mom, Kimberly Tuck, a special education teacher, with instilling in him the value of education.
“She couldn’t be more proud,” Kennedy said of how his mom feels about his academic achievement. “We kind of talk all the time about the long process of college."
The Campbell Trophy started being awarded in 1990, and two Vols have won it: quarterback Peyton Manning in 1997, the same year he finished as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and All-America offensive lineman Michael Munoz in 2004.
Manning congratulated Kennedy in a video in which he commended Kennedy on his academic performance, leadership and service in the community.
“That was cool to hear him talk about it and kind of be a part of this fraternity with this Campbell Trophy,” Kennedy said.
Candidates for the Campbell Trophy must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility; have a grade-point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale; have distinguished football ability as a starter or significant contributor; and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
Kennedy began his college career at Alabama as a backup guard before shifting to center, a natural fit for someone of his acumen.
"I fell in love with it," Kennedy said. "I like that strategy and thinking process of being a center and figuring out what the defense is and being able to get the offensive line the most advantageous call against the defense."
Kennedy started the 2018 season opener for Tennessee before tearing his ACL, a season-ending injury. He regained the starting job ahead of last season, and he has started 19 consecutive games in the middle of Tennessee's offensive line.
Campbell Trophy finalists
Tyler Bradfield, LB, Grand Valley State (Mich.)
Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Jack Gibbens, LB, Abilene Christian
Ezra Gray, RB, Alabama State
Tyriq Harris, DE, Charlotte
Drew Himmelman, OT, Illinois State
Tyler Howerton, OL, Hampden-Sydney (Va.)
Kekaula Kaniho, DB, Boise State
Brandon Kennedy, OL, Tennessee
Cameron Kinley, CB, Navy
Elijah Molden, DB, Washington
Brady White, QB, Memphis
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.