Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley agrees to terms with Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: May 3, 2021
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of joy for former Navy football player Cameron Kinley on Saturday night.
When the NFL Draft ended and Kinley had not been selected, he was down in the dumps. He took a walk around the block with a cousin who offered words of encouragement.
After having a good cry and coming to grips with the possibility his dream of playing professional football might be over, Kinley received a series of phone calls from his agent.
Ryan Williams-Jenkins, who played football at the Naval Academy and is a 2014 graduate, informed Kinley the Kansas City Chiefs were interested in signing him as a preferred free agent. Kinley was naturally elated and told Williams-Jenkins to make the deal.
Moments later, Williams-Jenkins called back to tell Kinley the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also offering a free agent contract. "Let's go to Tampa," said Kinley, who knew a member of that team's coaching staff.
Tampa Bay inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played football at Middle Tennessee State University with Kinley's father, Richard.
"I just felt more comfortable going down there knowing someone on coaching staff," Kinley said.
Kinley now hopes to become the latest Navy football player to make a 53-man roster in the NFL, joining New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Malcolm Perry. Keenan Reynolds, who like Perry played quarterback in Navy's triple-option offense, played slot receiver for the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.
"Every kid who starts playing football dreams of being able to play at the next level. You always hear about the number of players that actually do. To be included in that 1.2% is a blessing," Kinley said Sunday morning.
"Honestly, it still hasn't hit me yet. It just feels so surreal. It was a wonderful moment, for sure."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is thrilled to see another one of his former players get a chance to make the NFL.
"Very proud of Cam. He has worked extremely hard for this opportunity. He is a great ambassador for his family, his community, the Naval Academy and the Navy Football Brotherhood," he said.
Kinley enjoyed a strong junior season for the Midshipmen, starting all 13 games and recording 38 tackles and five pass breakups. However, his senior season was somewhat disappointing on a number of levels.
Coronavirus disrupted the season with Navy not playing for a month due to an outbreak of positive cases at the academy that got large numbers of football players caught up in contact tracing.
When the Midshipmen returned to action and the defense got itself turned around and playing good football, Kinley lost his starting job for the final two games.
Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry employed a unique 4-4 alignment against Army with an extra defensive tackle in place of a cornerback. Kinley only got in for two plays versus the archrival and was somewhat disillusioned about football.
"Ryan called after the Army-Navy game and said it's time to get ready for the league," Kinley said. "I was sort of skeptical at that point and was like, 'Do you really think I have a shot?' Ryan told me to just trust him and believe."
That a former Navy football player is representing Kinley is an interesting story itself. Williams-Jenkins was a slotback for the Mids from 2011 through 2014, amassing 685 all-purpose yards as a senior. He was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer and spent the 2015 season working in the Navy football player development office.
Williams-Jenkins was deployed to Afghanistan in 2018 as a convoy commander then got out of the military following his five-year commitment. He went to work with the Seattle Seahawks in player engagement then filled a similar role that also involved some scouting with the New York Giants.
Earlier this year, he partnered with sports agent Michael DeSane to establish Devine Sports and Entertainment. Kinley and UNC-Charlotte offensive lineman Jaelin Fisher were the firm's first clients.
DeSane is a certified NFL agent, while Williams serves as president of football operations. They succeeded in finding NFL homes for both clients as Fisher signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Williams-Jenkins initially began reaching out to NFL franchises about Kinley, none had even heard of the Navy cornerback. He and DeSane leveraged their connections to get Kinley into the Hula Bowl senior all-star game and a spot at the College Football Showcase.
"All 32 teams had scouts at both of those events, which was huge," Williams-Jenkins said. "Being able to compete against top NFL prospects in those environments was very important for Cam."
Kinley hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and is a product of Lausanne Collegiate School. He knows a slew of players on the Memphis football roster and used those connections to get a special invitation to its Pro Day.
Kinley performed well there, running the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, while displaying explosiveness with a broad jump of just over 10 feet and vertical jump of 34 inches. He put up 11 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, and also clocked a solid time in the three-cone drill.
"Ultimately, Cam did a great job of performing," Williams-Jenkins said. "We told Cam he needed to put up numbers that a typical NFL defensive back would put up. He met or exceeded those numbers."
Kinley, who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, certainly has the intangible qualities as he served as a Navy team captain and president of the senior class at the academy. He will graduate with a degree in political science with a 3.2 GPA.
"Cam didn't just get to the league because he's talented. He went above and beyond on so many other levels," Williams-Jenkins said. "That was a big part of our selling point when talking to teams. This man is an amazing leader and a first-class individual.
"That's a testament to the type of player the Navy football program and the Naval Academy develop."
Kinley's professional journey will begin the second weekend in May when he attends Tampa Bay's minicamp for rookies and free agents. He will graduate from the academy later this month but will not be commissioned as an officer.
If Kinley does not stick in the NFL, he will then commission and begin serving as an information warfare officer.
"My journey hasn't been easy. There have been a lot of ups and downs," Kinley said. "I just kept my head down and kept working, just put my trust in God and believed. I finally learned how to block out all the negativity and focus only on the positive."
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