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Commentary: "Jeff Kennard was one of my favorites of all time."
Heading home from college not knowing what to expect, I was handed history.
My first-year as a sports reporter, the beat included Centerville (Ohio)
High School. It was 1999.
That fall the Elks fielded arguably their best football team ever. One of the key members was Jeffrey Donald (JD) Kennard. An All-Ohio receiver, Kennard joined fellow seniors Ryan Hawk (quarterback) and Ray Huston (running back) in forming Centerville’s version of Aikmen, Irvin and Smith. They were that dominant.
The triplets still hold program records for career receiving, passing and rushing yards, respectively.
This past Thursday, surrounded by family and friends – including his wife Kate and two sons (ages 5 and 2) – Kennard passed away at his home after a short and courageous battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 37.
I’ve covered a lot of athletes and teams over the years, but for a sports writer in his first season at the Centerville-Bellbrook Times – I couldn’t have asked for a better squad.
Centerville averaged 457 yards per game and went 11-1 that season. The Elks lost 49-42 in the OHSAA Division I playoffs to Elder (Cincinnati, Ohio)
at Middletown’s Barnitz Stadium in one of the greatest football games I’ve witnessed. It was also legendary Centerville head coach Bob Gregg’s final contest.
Gregg ended with 301 career wins. Kennard was a part of 31.
A three-time All-Ohioan who played in the Big 33 game, Kennard’s 24 career touchdown receptions remains a program-best. A.J. Hawk, Mike Nugent and current Elks head coach Brent Ullery were underclassmen influenced by his leadership.
Kennard was even more brilliant as a baseball pitcher.
A CHS hall of famer in both sports, Kennard played 13 seasons of professional baseball including stints in the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs organizations.
Selected by the Yankees in the 40th round of the June 2000 MLB Draft, Kennard attended Rend Lake College (Ill.) and signed with N.Y. in 2001. Twice selected a minor league all-star, he made the Yankees 40-man roster in 2008.
Kennard’s recent passion was his hometown business Beyond The Game Sports Training
, where he performed alongside his wife as owner and operator. Working with youth pitchers was one of his specialties. He impacted thousands of young lives.
“Jeff Kennard was one of my favorites of all time,” said Brett Jodie, his Pitching Coach with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots
. “Everyone wanted to be around him. The ultimate team guy.”
Others felt the same.
"Kenny was an incredible teammate and friend,” Patriots teammate Josh Pressley said. “Kenny was uplifting, kind and selfless, and he will forever be loved."
“He’s a great man with a legacy that will extend well beyond the amazing one he left on the Centerville community,” @chselksfootball
tweeted. “We are grateful for JD and prayers are with his family.”
Others feel the same.
JD Kennard is one of my favorites, too.