COVINGTON, Ga. — Kendall Belcher was the second name to be called to come to the stage during Newton High’s National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday.
When he stepped up, along with his family, he did so donning blue and white from head to toe. But it wasn’t Newton blue and white. It was Kentucky.
Belcher, a former kicker for the Rams’ football program, made no secret about where he was going for college. He proudly displayed the UK Wildcat colors, as he informed students, teachers, faculty, friends and family in Newton’s packed auditorium where he was headed after his high school graduation.
Here’s the thing, though: Talk to Belcher, and you’ll discover that his pride for his future school has absolutely nothing to do with football.
“I’ll be joining the ROTC program at Kentucky,” Belcher said. “I did this by joining the Army reserves. So after I finish those four years at Kentucky, I’ll be a second lieutenant in the United States Army.”
Going this route give Belcher the opportunity to fulfill at least one half of his lifelong college dream. Belcher said since he was little he’d always envisioned himself playing football at Kentucky. But a shoulder injury he sustained in practice a couple of years ago halted that.
The injury required him to have surgery which sat him out for the rest of his football career, primarily because he realized that if he had to have any other surgeries or sustained any other injuries, he’d probably not be able to do thing he wanted to do maybe even more than football — join the military.
“I was really upset about it at first,” Belcher said. “I was hoping to be able to finish off my senior year at the very least, even if I didn’t get to play at the next level, I would finish off my last year. As a kid, I wanted to play at the university of Kentucky, but none of that worked out.”
Belcher admits that he was kind of bummed about it at first.
“Yeah, I was really upset about it, honestly,” he said. “But coach (Camiel) Grant and (Josh) Skelton, and even my ROTC instructor told me, ‘if you don’t wanna play football at the next level, that’s fine. But find something else to do. Don’t just stay around Covington. Get out and experience life.”
For him, now, that means positioning himself to serve his country. But why Kentucky? Since the football dream is gone, what’s keeping him interested in Lexington?
“I want to become a physician’s assistant one day, and Kentucky has one of the top programs in the nation,” he said.
And because of his lofty goals and the maturation displayed in the decision he made, Grant said he didn’t hesitate to allow Belcher and his family to take part in the signing day pomp and circumstance, even though he wasn’t technically signing anywhere.
“We definitely felt like it was thing to do for him,” Grant said. “He’s still a part of our team. He’s a part of our brotherhood and our program, and we’re proud of his accomplishments. For so many people, we celebrate the students who go on to play sports somewhere, and that’s great. But I don’t think we do a good enough job celebrating the ones who choose not to play sports in college, but still go on to have very successful and impactful lives.
“I think we need to do a better job of celebrating that, and I think this allowed us to do just that.”
And Belcher said he’s grateful that Grant and the football staff still saw fit to include him.
“It still feels good to be a part of this,” Belcher said. “Because growing up, from the ninth grade on, I’m seeing these seniors sign, and although I’m not doing it with them, it’s always something I wanted to do, so I feel like I’m celebrating it with them.”
Belcher said he’s excited about the new path he’s taking, even if it’s a little unconventional for a football player who once had dreams of starring on some of college football’s biggest stages. But Belcher said he’s not completely throwing away his desire to be around the game.
“I think I would like to become a football coach when I get older,” Belcher said. “I definitely still love the game.”