Rodney Kinlaw finally got the opportunity he wanted. And more than 107,000 fans saw him capitalize on it.
For most of his career, Kinlaw needed to be patient. Whether it was injury or other players above him on the depth chart, Kinlaw needed to persevere. And he did.
He persevered after tearing his ACL in his freshman season. Continued to gut it out when he wasn’t receiving the carries he wanted, or felt he deserved.
Finally, Kinlaw’s patience paid off, and in a big-time way.
During his senior season of 2007, Kinlaw recorded six 100-yard rushing games, with the initial outburst coming against Buffalo in mid-September. Penn State recorded a 45-24 victory, overcoming a sluggish start at Beaver Stadium — the Nittany Lions trailed 3-0 after the first quarter.
Kinlaw scored a six-yard touchdown against Buffalo, “as he refused to be stopped and carried the Bulls’ safety into the end zone,” John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter. Kinlaw’s scamper occurred in the fourth quarter, capping off a 6-play, 61-yard drive, on a day when Penn State played in front of a sellout crowd of 107,506 fans.
“It was one of the most amazing feelings ever, and something I’ll probably never experience again — playing in front of 100,000 fans,” said Kinlaw, who switched to No. 20 in his senior year, a nod to his favorite player, Barry Sanders.
“What I miss the most is running through the tunnel, and hearing the lion roar, and smelling the grass while stretching before the game. Nothing will compare to that again.”
Kinlaw, who earned a B.A. from the College of the Liberal Arts, finished 2007 with 1,329 rushing yards, accounting for most of his career rushing yards (1,655) during that year. Penn State completed the season with a 9-4 record, tagging Texas A&M with a 24-17 loss in the Alamo Bowl. Kinlaw earned offensive MVP honors by gaining 143 yards on 21 carries; he finished his career strong, as the performance was his third straight 100-yard game.
That bowl effort, and the weeks and months leading up to it, represented the culmination of Kinlaw’s unwavering belief that he could live up to the moment.
He followed up his 100-yard game against Buffalo with similar efforts versus Iowa (168 yards, two touchdowns), Wisconsin (115 yards, touchdown), Temple (168 yards, touchdown), Michigan State (125 yards, two touchdowns), and Texas A&M.
Each game, Kinlaw had at least 20 attempts, including 27 or more on three occasions. That number might have been the most important of all.
“I really remember feeling that I had the confidence, I knew that I had that the whole time,” Kinlaw said. “Getting the carries brought it all back to how I felt when I first got there. I saw holes develop, and the game became easier. Each game that went by, I saw things clearer and clearer, and things got easier for me.”
Before his breakout senior season, Kinlaw needed to overcome that ACL injury, and then didn’t win the starting job until his senior season. He even thought about transferring.
One of the reasons why Kinlaw stayed at Penn State was because his experience as a student-athlete was about more than football. His parents, Rodney Sr. and Isreal, stressed the importance of education. And Penn State certainly provided that. Kinlaw learned valuable lessons while playing for the Nittany Lions that have served him well beyond his playing days.
Be on time. Don’t give up. Respect is paramount.
Nowadays, Kinlaw is a successful Southeast Regional Manager with PDS Tech in Georgia, providing aerospace engineering companies with contingent workers. His college days weren’t much different from what some players are experiencing now, at Penn State and elsewhere.
Players jostling for position on the depth chart, wondering if they should make a move or stay put, all during the most formative time of their lives.
Kinlaw’s confident he made the right decision to stay in Happy Valley. It served him well his senior season, and now as an accomplished businessman.
His message to current players? Think about the next 40 years, not just the next four.
“For the kids who are there now who aren’t getting the opportunity, just stick it out and get your education,” Kinlaw said. “Football won’t last forever. You want to have something you can fall back on. Keep sticking it out, keep pushing, and when you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”