Sometimes all it takes is a chance.
Originally from Charlotte, N.C., sophomore defensive back Kendren Smith fell in love with football around the age of five. Yet, he continued to play other sports and run track throughout high school, which helped him master speed mechanics and techniques.
It wasn’t until his junior season in high school that Smith broke out with seven interceptions in 12 games as a starter. That same year, Smith attended a Penn football summer camp where he immediately felt a connection to head coach Ray Priore and now defensive coordinator Bob Benson.
Going into his senior campaign, Smith was as focused as ever on football and preparing himself to take his talents to the next level. As he was being recruited to join the Quakers that season, Smith recalls how he felt he was joining a family.
Though Smith was utilized as a two-way player in high school, he opted to make his presence felt as a defensive back with the Red and Blue. At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Smith felt he matched the prototype of a great NFL defensive back like Jalen Ramsey, his favorite cornerback.
Coming into his freshman year, Smith adjusted to the new team environment filled with capable teammates and upperclassmen at his position. But an injury to then-sophomore Mohammed Diakite early on in the season gave Smith the opportunity to step up and fill his shoes.
“All I needed was that opportunity to show my talents because it’s very rare for young guys to get on the field that early,” said Smith. “I knew I had the talent; I just had to trust the process.”
Smith knows the importance of seizing opportunities and places emphasis on showing out — even in preseason camps, where younger players get limited reps. In his nine game appearances, Smith shone even more, recording 33 tackles (26 solo) and five pass break-ups in addition to an interception.
In one of the biggest moments of the season, Smith played his best. With only 50 seconds remaining in the game, Smith saved Penn’s homecoming with a game-winning pass break-up to prevent a Cornell two-point conversion, and the Quakers would go on to win 21-20.
Smith was honored by his team as he was the only freshman to receive one of four Harry Gamble Football Awards for that season. Smith was one of the only freshmen on the team who saw regular playing time.
Post-pandemic, the future looks even brighter for Smith, who is setting his sights on the highest level of competition: the NFL. He is no stranger to the mentality required to reach those aspirations, as he lives and breathes football and refuses to take a day off from working out.
Even through the most unprecedented times in sports and world history, Smith remained as poised as ever.
“We have a saying on defense: ‘We’re surrounded,’ but that correlates to a lot of things. You don’t know what’s going to hit you or what’s going to happen next.” said Smith. “My experience playing is you have to be ready for anything and stay ready.”
With much of his Quaker career ahead of him, Smith wants to be remembered as one of the best defensive backs in Penn history. He is eager to take on the role of captain down the road and feels he can provide a great legacy to the program.
“I want to be one of those players guys look up to, not just leadership-wise but also by leading by example,” said Smith. “I wasn’t really that talkative, but my play style is to lead by example and show people what they should or shouldn’t do.
Don’t be surprised if you hear the name Kendren Smith at the next Penn football game, because he surely won’t be.
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