Meeting the challenges of college football, top-tier academics, and the continual stress of military preparation is not easy. It’s a formidable triumvirate. Not just anyone can do it.
But if you’re Cameron Kinley, then you have done it and then some.
Kinley, a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, is on a mission.
“I just want to put myself in a position to impact the lives of others in a positive manner,” Kinley, who played cornerback on the Navy football team, said.
And it seems his trajectory is placing him on the road to do just that.
“He’s got a vision for his life,” said James Adams, Kinley’s position coach at the Naval Academy. “He knows where he wants to head. He knows where he wants to end up.”
Football doesn’t define Kinley. His time away from the field has been distributed between academics, military responsibilities, his duties as co-class president, a leadership role in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and his involvement in the Midshipman Diversity Team, which seeks to educate people about the culture, perspectives, and backgrounds of others.
Adams said Kinley is a product of the love, guidance, and structure his parents and the Academy have given him.
“He’s just used it all to build himself into what he is today,” Adams said.
But the road behind hasn’t been a straightforward one to travel. He didn’t realize what he was getting into and committed preparation wasn’t enough.
“I prepared myself, but to be honest, you can’t really prepare yourself for the Naval Academy,” Kinley said. “You can work out all summer, read all the books and articles you want, but it’s a whole different story when you get out there because it’s just a change of environment.”
He struggled early on at the Academy, and doubt crept in, but he anchored his trust in his Christian faith and endeavored to persevere.
“It took a minute, but God started to unveil my purpose behind coming here … it’s been tough, but I wouldn’t change my decision at all,” he said.
His football journey has been a trial too. It has consisted of substantial effort, some success, then disappointment — a cycle that made Kinley question whether he wanted to play the game he felt so passionate about.
“You go from being the man in high school to coming up here and being dead bottom on the depth chart. So, boom, there’s already a blow right there.”
Fortunately, Kinley comes from a football family. His father, Richard, and brothers, Jonathan and Richard, played in college, and Jonathan made it to the NFL. He has benefited from their guidance.
“My dad told me, he said, ‘You’re going to find out if you really love the game when you start playing college football.’”
Kinley had setbacks during his first couple of seasons. He leaned into a Bible verse (Jeremiah 29:11) given to him by his father to overcome the gridiron obstacles placed in his path. During the 2019 season, he maintained a starting position.
That year, the Mids went 11-2 (tying a school record) and beat Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. The team was ranked 20th in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls. His fondest football memory comes from that season.
“We were playing SMU, a very good football team … and it was the fourth quarter, fourth and goal, like a minute left,” he said. “I was matched up against James Proche, who plays for the (Baltimore) Ravens now. I knew they were coming my way. It was man coverage, one-on-one.”
It would be a slant or fade, so he played it somewhat heavy inside to protect the slant, Kinley said.
“And I was playing underneath on the fade and he tried to throw a back shoulder, and I was able to deflect it away. So being able to seize that moment and get that ‘dub’ for the seniors who sacrificed so much for this program was easily going to be the most memorable moment of my career, being to come up big for them.”
NFL dreams have followed Kinley since childhood. Lining up against the best receivers in the game on Sunday would exceed many of the expectations placed on him. But he says the final word will come from God.
“It might not be the NFL for me, but I definitely feel He has something there for me so that I can continue to do his work and impact the lives of others.”
Kinley does plan on serving his country and fulfilling his commitment as an officer, whether the NFL becomes a reality or not. And after that?
“My biggest goal in life is to be the president. My mom (Candace Kinley) always told me, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, then you’re not dreaming big enough.’”
You can find this story and more in our May issue of Military Families Magazine. Download it here.
Editor’s note: The Navy recently informed Kinley that his application to delay his five-year service commitment for the opportunity to play in the NFL had been denied. In May, he signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played with the team during rookie minicamp. In a statement, Kinley said he is “hoping for a miracle” with a reversal of the ruling. However, there is no appeal process.