On July 27, Worcester native and former Holy Name and Shepherd Hill star running back Kevin Mensah will report to Storrs, Connecticut, where he will fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Division 1 college football.
For those fortunate enough to play football at such a high level, the road traveled is long and arduous. However, in Mensah’s case, the road to the University of Connecticut had a few more twists and turns than most.
There was no doubt Mensah would play on Saturdays next fall. The only question was where.
As a junior at Holy Name, he ran for 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns, before transferring to Shepherd Hill, where he spent as much time in the courtroom as the football field.
While his battle with the MIAA to remain eligible became front-page news, he never lost focus on life after high school.
“I think it’s a lesson,” Mensah said. “If you want to try to transfer, do it as perfectly as you can. I’m pretty sure Holy Name was disappointed and for my part, I take full responsibility. It’s just a lesson for kids that if they want to follow their dreams, and they get into a situation like I was in to please, talk to all the people, get information and just do it the right way so you won’t have to get into that situation that I just got into.”
Playing for the Rams, Mensah rushed for 1,155 yards and 13 TDs, while average almost 10 yards per touch. That attracted interest from Boston College, Bryant, UMass, New Hampshire, Fordham, Michigan, Rutgers and UConn.
But first Mensah had to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center, which reviews things like a student's academic record and SAT scores. When that hurdle was cleared, UConn offered him a full scholarship.
“It was easy decision,” Mensah said. “The reason why is that (UConn has) been with me throughout the whole process within the year. They knew what my story was with the MIAA and they were following me. As I was progressing to get my grades up, they were checking on me and coming in and saying hi. Once I got that all set, they gave me the offer and I had to say yes because they treated me so good and they felt like family to me.”
Mensah said he can’t wait to start the next chapter of his life.
“I’m excited,” Mensah said. “I can’t wait be a Husky and play at The Rent (Rentschler Field). It’s going to be beautiful representing Worcester. Not a lot of people come out from here and it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Shepherd Hill football coach Ryan Dugan said it is a fitting reward for such a special person.
“Kevin was an absolute pleasure to coach on the field and get to know as a young man off the field,” Dugan said. “He certainly was a leader and an inspiration for our team. There was a lot of pressure and lot of stress to put on an 18-year-old. He handled it with class, and with dignity and grace.”
Dugan said UConn makes perfect sense for Mensah, as it’s close to home, offers a high level of football and has a wide variety of academic offerings.
“I couldn’t think of any places that would be a better fit than UConn,” Dugan said. “When Kevin first became part of our program last year, all the coaches agreed that UConn would be a good spot for him. I think it’s a place he can succeed academically.”
As for Mensah’s immediate future, while redshirting remains an option, Mensah says he will battle hard with four other running backs for playing time in 2017. Mensah has some extra motivation heading into camp, as the Huskies will play Boston College and Shepherd Hill alums Chris and Alex Lindstrom at Fenway Park on Nov. 18.
“I’m going to battle and it’s going to be exciting,” Mensah said. “I’m going to compete hard and that BC game at Fenway will be a lot of fun.”
Dugan is looking forward to see just how far Mensah can go, especially after the extra adversity he endured.
“We were in a position of trying to help a kid reach a goal and when you get into coaching and when you get into education, that’s your goal is to help kids reach their full potential,” Dugan said. “I guess at the end of the day, looking back on it, was it upsetting, was it sad, was it a lot of undue stress? Yes it was all that. But, it was all worth it because Kevin is that good of a kid.”