Brett Kennedy didn’t realize in the moment his right knee had popped. He planted and pivoted his foot at midfield — a clearing-attempt dodge — but then crumbled to the ground. There was no contact. It was a move Kennedy had done countless times leading up to that point in his junior season.Maybe it was Essex County’s Watsessing Park’s field, which his father, former coaches and siblings compared to “concrete.” Kennedy had never been seriously injured before that April game against Glen Ridge. Yet, there lay Ridgewood (New Jersey) High School’s defensive leader on the hard field. His uncle and mother sprinted out with trainers from both schools. Tom, his father, was stuck in New York City’s Holland Tunnel, desperately trying to weave his Chevy Suburban and get to Watsessing Park when his wife called. “I’ve like really never gotten hurt before that, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Kennedy said.Kennedy eventually hobbled over to the sideline on crutches. The Glen Ridge trainer said it wasn’t an ACL tear, but the knee continued to swell. By the next morning, Kennedy didn’t believe the trainer. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIt had to be an ACL tear or something worse than the initial diagnosis. Everything Kennedy would later become known for with the Orange — his speed, his aggressiveness — was jeopardized in that moment. The same would happen again after his second ACL tear less than two years later, prolonging the progress made at long pole in his final year at Ridgewood and preventing him from reaching the field during his freshman year at Syracuse. As a redshirt junior long-stick midfielder with the Orange, Kennedy has shaken the injuries to become a defensive “terror,” as head coach John Desko calls him. “That would’ve sunk most people,” NJ Riot club founder Lee Southren said. “If it sinks somebody on the first one, the second one really could’ve just basically had somebody think that their career’s over.” • • •Austin Fusco glanced up and saw space. A few seconds after Syracuse scored in the fourth quarter against then-No. 17 Johns Hopkins, the ball popped loose from the ensuing faceoff. Kennedy sprinted toward the X but then peeled back and hovered. Blue Jays defender Jared Reinson pulled off to chase the ball, but Fusco arrived first. He lifted a pass to Kennedy, who took four steps, one skip and a shot from 20 yards out that ended in the eventual game-winning goal for SU.It was the loudest Peter Dearth said he’d ever heard the Carrier Dome. Kennedy jumped into Nate Solomon’s arms. This was just Kennedy’s fourth goal with Syracuse, but he channeled the offensive skills remaining from his childhood, when he was an offensive midfielder first learning the sport.,“They used to call him ‘Brett the Jet,’” Southren said. “He was like a jet plane. You would fire him up, and he would just start running all over the field.”In the backyard of their Ridgewood home, Kennedy and his two brothers, Thomas and Jack, would sprint out to the lacrosse net nestled on their paved basketball court. They’d select a goalie and pepper tennis balls toward the net. Sometimes they’d miss and break a basement window, other times they’d go one-on-one and practice dodges.When he started high school, though, Kennedy switched to long pole. It played right into his physicality, a perfect fit for the “hyper-active kid,” his uncle and brother agreed. There were still offensive flashes, like in a Braveheart overtime — where each team uses one player and a goalie — when Kennedy won the one-on-one battle and scored the game-winner at a North Carolina tournament.But defense became his specialty. Shortly after Kennedy tore his ACL for the first time, defensive coach Sean Kelly left Don Bosco Prep and joined the Ridgewood staff. He studied film on every player leading into the summer, including Kennedy. His potential didn’t need uncovering, just fine-tuning: on-ball defense, point of attack — little things that needed to become muscle-memory before Syracuse.Still, Kennedy couldn’t start right away. He was on crutches. In between his physical therapy sessions at Excel Training, Kennedy and Kelly talked on the sideline at practices and tournaments. For Kennedy’s defense inside the 10-yard line to become consistent for longer than a few minutes, his stick needed to initiate contact from his hands. He couldn’t react to the attackmen and midfielders. He needed to dictate them.As Kennedy’s senior season neared, they used the umbrella drill to hone defensive approaches and break-downs from the left, top left, center, top right and right side of the net. Every angle needed to be closed off against top attackmen, Kelly told him. His instincts within the restraining box were sound, and now a complete defensive game formed.“The one-on-one is a violent confrontation,” Kelly said, “and if you watch Brett play, Brett plays violently and he plays full speed.”Kelly and Ridgewood head coach Mike Pounds helped turn Brett into the player that was second on the Orange with 42 ground balls and earned All-ACC honors during his redshirt freshman year in 2018. That came one year after Kennedy had suffered his second ACL tear on the same knee during SU’s annual alumni scrimmage, though. In that Sept. 2016 exhibition, Kennedy again came across the middle of the field, tracking Sergio Salcido, he said. This time, Kennedy knew it was the ACL when he fell. Tom and Kennedy’s uncle Bernie Jensen, sitting in the Carrier Dome stands, feared that too. And trainer Troy Gerlt confirmed in the training room less than a half hour after the scrimmage ended.,“When he gets beat, it doesn’t affect him,” Kelly said. “When he tears his leg, it doesn’t affect him. When he tears his knee the second time, it doesn’t affect him.”After the first tear near midfield against Glen Ridge, Kennedy and his family went to Kennedy Fried Chicken across the street following the game. Swelling had worsened by that point, and it would swell even more when they got home. The second time, when Kennedy and his family went to dinner at the then-Genesee Grande Hotel’s Salt Restaurant & Bar, there was no uncertainty hanging over the injury. Later that evening, Kennedy’s phone lit up with a text from Kelly asking how he felt. “Bummed,” Kennedy responded.“Let’s give it 24-48 hours, feel sorry about yourself and then on Monday we start recovering,” Kelly chimed back. “I can’t wait to read about your comeback story. I can’t wait to watch you play next spring.”For the next six months, Kennedy spent his days with Gerlt in the Manley Field House training room, slowly progressing from simple bends and stretches that defined the first two weeks. Shuffles with elastic bands became BOSU ball balances and high-rep kettlebell squats, before Gerlt eventually released Kennedy for jogs and sprints. An injury to Tyson Bomberry during 2018 against Albany gave Kennedy his first chance in the Orange’s lineup a week later. He initially started at close defense, not the position he was recruited for, but created two Army turnovers and picked up five ground balls.In Charlottesville, Virginia the following game, Kennedy broke out with two consecutive goals, the first coming when he sprinted for 40 yards down the field before finishing just outside the crease. The next came in transition, converting a pass from Dearth and pumping his fist as soon as the ball sunk into the net. “Everyone started to say, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’” Thomas, his older brother, said.Even as Kennedy became an All-American, texts still come from Kelly. “Spot checks,” he calls them. They’ll come at 4 a.m. (You’re probably sleeping and being lazy. I’m doing pushups, what’re you doing?). They’ll buzz Kennedy’s phone after games (Love that they had you and Fernandez on the wing together.). Kelly doesn’t let up, even at random times during the summer. “Dog days and humid, lots of excuses,” one text read. “What are you doing to get better? Don’t let the voices in your head talk you into taking the path of least resistance. First-team All-American and national championship are year-long jobs. The weak will always hate the strong, stay savage.”“Working out right now,” Kennedy typed after waking up in the morning to one of Kelly’s early-hour messages. “Got my number up to 265, 12 reps, pretty pumped,” he responded in August, during his second-straight fully healthy offseason.Kennedy always has an answer.Cover photo by Elizabeth Billman | Asst. Photo Editor Comments Published on February 4, 2020 at 4:15 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @CraneAndrew,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.