A Selfless Leader

James Kennedy

Senior James Kennedy humbly leads his team with his outstanding character and skill.

By Carly Grimaudo
Special to GoHolyCross.com

From the first time James Kennedy stepped on the lacrosse field donning a purple and white uniform as a freshman in 2010 through today, his incredible skill, character, and leadership have been continuous and significant factors in the program's improvement and impending success. After viewing the 5'10" 185 lb. superstar's impressive lacrosse resumé, one might assume that his path to Division I lacrosse was an easy one, or that all his individual triumphs would cause him to possess an exuberant moxie. However, after sitting down with Kennedy to talk about his involvement in the sport of lacrosse and his time as a Crusader, I quickly learned that both assumptions were far from true.

Kennedy grew up in the well-known lacrosse town of Summit, N.J. and picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time in just the second grade. His first experience with the sport wasn't actually on a team, but through participation in clinics that were organized by the fathers of other boys who like Kennedy, had an early passion for the sport. Up until eighth grade, Kennedy primarily played as a goalie and took field positions on the side. Jim Davidson, head coach of the varsity team at Summit High School and Kennedy's close friend and mentor who has "been like another parent," saw his early potential for greatness and initiated Kennedy's transition from goalie to field player before his freshman year and first year on the varsity team.

Davidson's early impulse to train Kennedy as a field player clearly paid off for both Summit's varsity team and Kennedy himself. By his senior year, Kennedy led the team as captain and earned All-America, State Attackman of the Year, Star Ledger Player of the Year, first team All-State, first team All-County, first team All-Conference and first team All-Division honors. He also set a school single-season record by scoring an outstanding 115 points from 44 goals and 71 assists. Kennedy's success and leadership his senior year helped guide Summit to a state championship and a No. 4 national ranking by Lacrosse Magazine. This winning culture and atmosphere of Summit that Kennedy developed and heightened as a high school senior is now a key influence over how he currently leads the Crusaders as a senior captain four years later.

While Kennedy ultimately chose to become a Crusader because of Holy Cross' well-known elite community, alumni network and values, the college was not actually his first option for playing Division I lacrosse. Kennedy, who never played club lacrosse, was not recruited right out of high school to compete at the Division I level. "Most DI schools stopped recruiting me or didn't answer, I wound up looking at small D3 schools similar to Holy Cross until I got the opportunity to play here," said Kennedy. After being dropped last minute by other Division I schools, Kennedy seized a late opportunity granted to him to play for Holy Cross. He utilized the Holy Cross lacrosse program's interest in him not only as a way to fulfill his dream of playing Division I, but also as a way to prove wrong everyone who doubted his ability to play at this level. When Holy Cross defeated Colgate for the first time in program history during Kennedy's freshman year, he tallied four goals in the 9-8 victory, including the game-winner with just three seconds left in the fourth quarter. The same week, Kennedy gained league recognition by being named Patriot League Rookie of the Week and later he was voted the team's Rookie of the Year showing everyone that he not only belonged in a Division I program, but could thrive in one.

Kennedy's accomplishments on the field accelerated the following two years as a sophomore and a junior, when he played and started in all 15 games each year. Since his time as a freshman he's been able to heighten his game by making significant improvements on both his stature and skill. "Freshman year I put on about 25 lbs. and I've been developing my shooting skills from the outside along with working on my righthand skills so I can be a threat from both ways," said Kennedy. Such improvements have definitely paid off as shown through the amount of points and awards Kennedy has racked up throughout the years. In the last three seasons he cumulated a total of 103 points, 39 of which have come from assists. When regarding his impressive, team-leading number of assists, which ranked him seventh in the Patriot League in 2012 with 1.27 assists per game, Kennedy said, "Getting my other teammates the ball is a win-win for me. I get a lot more gratification out of someone else finishing the play and getting my other teammates, like John, Miles, Clay or Terry's confidence going." 

Atop all of Kennedy's team, league and national recognitions, including Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week, Division I Nike National Player of the Week, New England Player of the Week, and being named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List he admits that the most important award thus far has been his Nike National Player of the Week because of the circumstances surrounding it. "This award was received from a win in the most fun lacrosse game I ever played," Kennedy proudly stated. After causing what could have been a detrimental turnover in the last minute of regulation against Hartford, Kennedy finished the game by scoring his game-winning sixth goal of the day, resulting in a 15-14 Holy Cross victory. Despite an exceptional individual season in 2012, Kennedy humbly remarked, "Last year was a good season but we were still 5-10 and we have to keep working hard as a team because none of the personal stuff matters in the end." He then added "It's not what you've done, but what you're going to do next that truly matters."

In 2012, Kennedy not only led the team in points for the second year in a row, he led the team on and off the field as captain as well. Though he faced difficulties in his first year of captain, from having to overcome the awkwardness of calling out seniors to learning how to say things his teammates did not always want to hear, Kennedy knew he was voted to the position because his teammates respected him. This year, he looks to use his past leadership experiences to be a role model and better his team as much as possible. With a team that has a significantly large number of new members, including 19 freshman and two sophomore transfers, Kennedy's role as a leader of this fairly young team will be key to the 2013 team's success and chemistry. "One of the most important jobs for me as captain is to keep the underclassmen motivated and serious at practices and to make sure that when we're on the field we're only thinking about lacrosse," said Kennedy.

As Kennedy looks back at the last three years and forward into this season he notes that he wouldn't change a single thing about his experience with the Holy Cross lacrosse program even though he's faced some challenges along the way. After almost not playing DI in college and then losing the coach who recruited him here he said, "Though things didn't go as planned I definitely learned a lot about adversity." When talking about current head coach, Jim Morrissey, Kennedy said, "Though he's only been my coach since sophomore year I feel like he's been my coach forever. Coach Morrissey is a great role model who I can trust and is someone who genuinely cares about every member on the team."

In about his 15th and final year of playing lacrosse, Kennedy notes how he will greatly miss playing the sport everyday at the conclusion of his senior season because it has been such a big part of his life. He also adds how much he will miss his teammates and being on the team. "My favorite part about the team is the camaraderie between everyone. There are about 48 guys or so and we're all very close. I love how I still keep in touch with teammates who graduated two or three years ago and how we build strong friendships that last in school and well after," stated Kennedy.

So far in Kennedy's senior season, the Crusaders are 3-3 with wins against Hartford, Sacred Heart and Rutgers. Personally, Kennedy is leading the team in assists with seven, and has also netted six goals totaling 13 points in six games. They continue their season on Sunday, March 17 with a special Patriot League match up against Navy at the New York Mets' stadium, Citi Field.

After proving to all his doubters that he could be a standout in Division I lacrosse by winning countless awards, including several nationally recognized ones, Kennedy stays humble and focuses on the importance of being the best leader and teammate he could be. To him, reaching success as a team is a much greater reward than any personal title or trophy he could earn. Using this attitude Kennedy embodies a selfless mentality and gears all his focus towards getting his team to the Patriot League Tournament for the first time in program history this spring.