Senior running back Ke’aun Kinner didn’t visit Lawrence, Kansas, before committing to play for the Jayhawks in 2014.
He spent two seasons at Navarro College — a two-year institution in Corsicana, Texas — working hard to get a chance to play Division I football. He received an offer from Iowa that many expected him to take. But a phone conversation with then newly-appointed head coach David Beaty changed his mind.
“Beaty called me, and when we were on the phone he explained his expectations and what he wanted to do with the program,” Kinner said. “He sounded different from all the coaches I had ever talked to, he was sincere and true. I made my decision and then went to visit.”
Kinner made a smooth transition from junior college to Big 12 football. He said playing in a Power Five conference is faster and harder than he thought, but Kinner has always thrived when much is expected of him.
As a senior at Little Elm High School, he racked up 2,936 rushing yards and carried a strenuos workload. Kinner recorded 50-plus carries in consecutive games in 2012 and was named the Associated Press Texas Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year.
Kinner’s low grades and test scores pushed him toward the junior college route, and he quickly became a key cog in Navarro’s offensive scheme. He rushed for 1,918 yards in his two seasons – third-most in school history – and his 26 touchdowns are tied for most career scores by a Bulldog. In 2014, he was named the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year.
Kinner’s production has continued at Kansas. As a junior, he led the team with 564 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He currently leads the Jayhawks with 644 rushing yards, and his three scores are tied for third-most on the team. But Kinner gives all the credit to his offensive line.
“I just try to motivate the o-line as much as I can,” Kinner said. “I always tell myself ‘I go as they go.’ We work together, we work for each other, and my success goes to them.”
The Jayhawks haven’t had much success on the football field, recording just eight total wins and two conference victories dating back to the 2012 season. But Kinner said Kansas goes into every game thinking it can win, as playing for teammates drives the team forward.
“Just knowing you’re doing this with the team, you’re going to battle with your team,” Kinner said. “We always prepare to beat our opponents. We know we can win games, we just need to eliminate mistakes that hurt us.”
The team’s matchup with Texas marks Kinner’s last chance to earn a victory in front of a home crowd, and he said he definitely thinks Kansas can get the job done.
The Jayhawks have dropped nine games in a row, but Kinner knows how to keep the young backs motivated. He took on a leadership role at Kansas, which was something he hadn’t done before, and uses his relationships with younger teammates to keep everyone’s spirits up when times get tough.
With just two contests left on the schedule and no chance at a bowl game, Kinner knows his collegiate career is coming to a close. And though he spent just two years at Kansas, there will be some emotion when the final whistle blows.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, that my career is almost over,” Kinner said. “I think the feeling of this being my last home game will hit me when I walk off the field.”