Football: Ballantyne makes most of his second chance

Football: Ballantyne makes most of his second chance

With his degree four classes away and his professional career taking shape, Kendrick Ballantyne can finally see his life taking shape the way he has always envisioned.

Ballantyne is taking three classes and splitting his time between Boston and Florida, where he is training with a speed and strength coach in preparation for the NFL Draft on April 28. He participated in the Pro Day workout at Harvard March 13 for players not invited to the combine. But the Northeastern senior took the long road to graduation and a football career.

Three years ago the tight end turned to Northeastern head football coach Rocky Hager looking for a second chance. A mistake left the 20-year-old searching for a fresh start after he was dismissed from the University of Maine.

“It was a weird situation. I got in trouble at a bad time and caught up in a whole mess,” Ballantyne said. “I am not saying I wasn’t responsible or this wasn’t my fault because it was. But it never occurred to me I was done playing.”

After redshirting his freshman season at Maine, the Gorham native played in five games his sophomore year. He put up good numbers including two catches for 35 yards in a 20-14 loss to Northeastern.

After the season and the winter practices ended, the team had a party to celebrate. A fight broke out at the party with Ballantyne and five teammates in the middle. All six players were immediately suspended from the team and put into anger management and alcohol counseling.

Normally a fight wouldn’t get players thrown out of school following their suspension, but Maine needed to set an example. The school was still reeling from a steroid problem and an alleged rape, and newly hired Athletics Director Blake James chose this fight to set an example.

“In normal circumstances no one would have gotten kicked out of school for that fight,” Ballantyne said. “After I was suspended in March I did all the counseling. I didn’t step foot in a party and I didn’t have a single drink. I did everything. But in May, at the end of the semester they decided we were, all six of us, dismissed from school. Just like that.”

Determined to not to let his career end after five games, Ballantyne started contacting schools even though the recruiting season was over. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 240 pound tight end’s information landed on the desk of first year Northeastern coach Rocky Hager.

“Recruiting was done when I was hired but there was an envelope sent to me with his information,” Hager said. “We invited Kendrick and his family to come down and visit and had a very honest discussion about what had gone on and it was very obvious to me that he understood his mistakes and knew what he needed to do to prevent that type of thing from coming up again. There was a very strong statement of ownership and in my previous experience if you are willing to take ownership then you have a serious chance of fixing things.”

Of the six players dismissed from Maine, Ballantyne was the only one to get another chance to play in college.

“Coach sat me down and said ‘I am a believer in second chances and I am willing to give you one. But don’t mess up, don’t let me down. You have a no tolerance policy, don’t do anything to jeopardize it,'” Ballantyne said.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Ballantyne was forced to sit out another season. He practiced with Northeastern and earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. He improved his blocking and was a constant presence in the weight room, Hager said.

When the 2005 season started, it seemed Ballantyne was finally going to be able to prove himself on the football field. In six games he had collected 18 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Then, in the second half of the homecoming game against William ‘ Mary Oct. 15, he dislocated his right elbow.

“After the injury I hit rock bottom,” Ballantyne said. “First I got kicked out of school, embarrassed myself and my family. I spent a whole year off just practicing and now I can play and I get hurt. Can anything go right? At that point everything was thrown out the window, I stopped looking forward and just hit rock bottom.”

But Ballantyne was able to hide his emotional trauma as he worked to be healthy in time for the last two games of the season.

“He thought he was going to recuperate like Superman and be back by the end of the season,” Hager said. “But that didn’t happen and that was when the real sting set in.”

When he wasn’t able to play he again found himself in trouble. Ballantyne was locked out of his residence hall after a night out and got into trouble with a police officer for his loud, disorderly reaction.

“It took me getting into a little trouble to set me straight again,” Ballantyne said. “That was a turning point for me to get my life together. I have cried about this and been down about this for too long. Now I need to be more positive and go back to working hard.”

In 2006 the senior co-captain finally put together the season he had been expecting from himself. Every game he added to his impressive numbers. He led the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (655). He tallied seven of the team’s eight receiving touchdowns. He scored against New Hampshire on a 4th-and-5 to set up the overtime victory. He was named to the All-New England and All-Atlantic 10 teams.

“Being elected captain this season really meant the most because my teammates did that,” he said. “After everything, I was someone they could look up to and respect for my hard work and leadership.”

When the season ended, Ballantyne hired an agent and has set his professional career in motion.

“I am looking at getting on a preseason roster and going through camp with them and making it through the cuts,” Ballantyne said. “Ultimately I want to be on the 53-man roster when the regular season starts, or even the 10-person practice squad. I am talking to teams right now, getting calls from scouts asking me about my past and my troubles.”

There is a chance Ballantyne will not be one of the players chosen in the seven-round draft, but he has been contacted by multiple teams about signing a free agent contract after the draft.

Hager said after 13 seasons as a coach he still can’t predict which players will make it in the NFL.

“I will say that Kendrick has worked hard and stayed tough mentally,” he said. “Unless you’re a first-round draft choice there is always a little doubt about whether you can make it. There is a little luck involved. If Kendrick gets a break I can assure you I think he will do very well.”

When the 2007 NFL season starts, Ballantyne hopes to see his name on a roster and on a Northeastern degree.

“Everything that happened to me is what has shaped me as a person today and I have been through a lot,” Ballantyne said. “When I was in high school my father was very sick and in college my sister was very sick and a year later I was kicked out of college. People need to go through that immature phase. I went through it, I grew out of it and I learned from it.”

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