Rocky Mount's Kearney hooks on with Winston-Salem State
By PATRICK MASON
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
There’s still more football to be played for Bikembe Kearney.
Kearney, a 2015 Rocky Mount High graduate and former UNC Pembroke defensive back, recently hooked on with Division II Winston-Salem State where he will play his final year of college eligibility.
Kearney redshirted his freshman season at Pembroke, then played 26 games for the Braves over the next three seasons. During the 2017 season, Kearney turned in his best statistical season with six pass breakups, an interception and 47 tackles.
He earned his degree in exercise science with a sports focus and graduated in December 2018. And with one more year of eligibility remaining, Kearney thought it was best for him to use with a different program.
“I feel like the program has been going downhill with a couple hiccups here and there,” Kearney said over the phone on Tuesday. “So I just felt like it was best for me to move on.”
Pembroke went 4-17 the past two seasons and made several coaching changes along the way, including one which brought in a new defensive backs coach. Kearney also discovered that he wanted to play in a conference before his college career was through.
The Braves are part of the NCAA Division II Independent Schools. Winston-Salem State plays in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
So Kearney was granted a transfer, and the search began. The Rocky Mount native made several campus visits, including stops at Campbell University and Henderson State in Arkansas. He was also emailing and talking with the coaching staff at Winston-Salem State.
Division I Campbell offered Kearney a preferred walk-on spot, while Henderson State offered a spot on its roster. But the idea of gambling on a scholarship offer that may or may not come wasn't ideal, and moving to Arkansas this late in his career didn’t seem like the right fit either.
“I definitely wanted to play in a conference, that was important,” Kearney said. “I was waiting to hear about scholarship money opening up in the spring with Campbell, and Henderson in Arkansas was a good vibe, I liked the coaches, but it was so far away from home. It took two flights to get there.
“Then Winston-Salem State came about. Their DB coach has over 10 years of NFL experience, and the location is not too far from home. I felt it gave me the best opportunity to compete and battle for a conference championship and then a national championship.”
Robert Massey, the WSSU interim head coach and secondary coach, played 10 years in the NFL and was named to the 1992 Pro Bowl as a member of the Phoenix Cardinals.
Kearney enrolled at WSSU this spring and is taking classes to chase down a Masters degree in business administration.
He’s older now, having gone through four years of college, yet the process of searching for a school reminded him of the same search he did as a high schooler. Only this time around, he felt that he held a lot of the cards.
“I felt like I was on a different side of the table. It was more about, ‘What is best for me?’” Kearney said. “Coming out of high school I didn’t have the same exposure I do now. I felt like I had to take what I got then, but this time I already had film, good quality film, and I developed as a player. I feel like I had the upper hand.”
Kearney, currently in his fifth summer of college football workouts, is excited about his final season. He said his work ethic has already won over the respect of his teammates, and as a veteran player he aims to step into a leadership role.
“I’m more comfortable than I used to be,” Kearner said. “College football happens at a fast pace. I’ve always been looked at as an underdog, so in my last summer going into my senior year I’m giving it all I got.
“That means work on my strengths and eliminate my weaknesses. I’m trying to make a lot of plays and be a role model for my tea. I want to lead people, and even though I transferred, they see me grinding and working. A lot of times when you transfer you have to win over your teammates and gain their trust, which is something I can do with my hard work.”