Coming into his senior year on the USC football team, linebacker Devon Kennard was ready to set himself up for a career in the National Football League. Then, while lifting weights, he tore a pectoral muscle, a season-ending injury.
“It was devastating,” he recalled. “A lot of people wrote off my NFL career after that pec injury — and I definitely had my own doubts. To overcome those dark times, my mindset was: Control what I can control, glorify God and be relentless in the way that I pursue my dreams every day.”
Driven by the work ethic he’d learned from his father — 11-year NFL pro Derek Kennard — Kennard redshirted his senior year to recover from his injury and complete his bachelor’s degree in communication in 2012.
“That year I was injured really made it clear that I needed to take everything I was doing off the field as serious as I took everything on the field,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be successful, whether I had a 10-year career in the NFL, or I didn’t make it to the NFL at all.”
He then applied to and was accepted into the communication management master’s program and played his final year of eligibility as a graduate student. Not only did he earn his master’s degree in 2013, his outstanding play that year led the New York Giants to select him in the fifth round in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Building a reputation as a tough, disciplined defender, Kennard joined the Detroit Lions as a free agent in 2018. Now playing for the Arizona Cardinals in his hometown of Phoenix, Kennard has paired his on-field success with success in business as a real estate investor and a philanthropist. He’s also a soon-to-be author, with a deal from HarperCollins to write a book about personal development and financial literacy. Kennard attributes his off-field achievements to his own drive, to the education he received at USC Annenberg, and to the networking efforts that started during his college years.
“I built relationships with a lot of USC alumni as I tried to figure out what I was interested in doing in the business world,” he said. Though he wasn’t sure what enterprise would be the best fit, he knew that his communication degrees gave him the skills he needed to understand sales, marketing and how to put together a business plan.
“Annenberg gave me all the tools I needed in my toolbox when it comes to communicating,” he said. “Some of the broadcasting classes helped me realize that I’m constantly selling myself, whether it’s an interview after a game or going to a networking event for business opportunities.”
After his rookie year, Kennard began going to real estate meetups in Phoenix, where he was connected with another investor — a fellow Trojan — who helped him buy his first property: a single-family home in Indianapolis. “Eight years later, I’m in over 50 real estate deals, and I own 20 properties on my own,” he said. “Finding success in business has made me realize I have purpose in my life that is not attached to being a professional athlete.”
Another one of those purposes is community service: At every stop in his NFL career, Kennard has targeted his philanthropy toward after-school and mentoring programs for at-risk students.
“My passion for working with kids comes from what I’ve learned about the importance of financial independence and financial literacy,” he said. “In our country, and especially in minority communities, I don’t think families talk about finances enough — it’s kind of taboo to talk about those things. I want to flip that on its head and be one of the people who is bridging that gap.”
In 2019, his work with an after-school program in Detroit earned him a nomination as a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which recognizes both community service off the field and excellence on the field.
“That really was the proudest moment of my career,” Kennard said. “I want to impact kids’ lives. That’s part of why I’m on this Earth.”