Through years of toil in weight rooms and on football fields, Kendrick Gathers sometimes wondered whether his labor would get him to his goal.
“There were always times where I’d think, what if it doesn’t pay off? What if football isn’t the route for me?” said Gathers, the Keenan Raiders’ star safety and all-around athlete.
Prayers for guidance and encouragement from his mom helped keep Gathers going through countless workouts.
Sage advice from mentor Cedric Ritchie helped, too.
“Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just pack your wagon,” Ritchie said. “You have to have blind faith. Be ready to go and stay on the path, even though you don’t know where it’s leading.”
“We’ve been working really hard to get him ready,” he said.
When Gathers is not in a team workout or practice, he is working on his own. Instead of relaxing with video games, he is doing speed training, drilling to improve his footwork, studying the game.
“It’s crazy, all the work that goes into it,” he said. “People don’t really see that, when they see you out there on the field and they’re cheering for you. They don’t see all that work.”
Keenan coach Quin McCollum said Gathers cannot help himself.
“With Ken, he’s a natural born leader and a hard worker. He does everything you ask of him, on the field and off the field. And he’s always going to put in the extra effort, no matter what you ask of him,” McCollum said.
So when McCollum asked the Raiders to show up for 6:30 a.m. workouts, Gathers had the best attendance.
Still, as the Raiders went through the summer of 2013, Gathers was not performing the way he wanted to and he questioned whether all of that would lead to a college scholarship.
But Gathers’ junior season quieted all his doubts.
“Stepping onto the field, I felt like this was it. I got two interceptions that game, and it just let me know that I was doing the right things,” he said.
“When we got ready to come out last season, you could see the intensity in his eyes. You knew he was serious,” McCollum said.
Gathers snagged two interceptions in the season opener. He finished the season with 11 interceptions – leading the state – and three interceptions returned touchdowns. He averaged 9.1 yards per carry and 18.3 yards per catch, contributing five touchdowns on offense, with a total of 869 all-purpose yards.
His efforts caught the eye of a handful of college recruiters, from schools such as South Carolina State, Union College and Liberty.
Gathers took no down time. He went from the football field to the basketball court to the track, where he helped the Raiders 400-meter relay squad win gold in May.
He stepped up his academic efforts, and enters his senior year with a 3.0 average and determination to finish better than ever.
“I know that God didn’t bring me this far just to turn me around now,” Gathers said. “I’ve been working hard all summer, and I know that whatever I put in, I have to get it back out, so I’m not worried.”