Citing concussions, Fauquier High graduate Kevin Friend abandons NFL dreams
Despite his injury-plagued senior season at the University of Connecticut, former Fauquier High star Kevin Friend will go down as one of the most successful college football players Fauquier County has produced. --Photo by Stephen Slade/UConn Athletics
Thoughts of playing in the NFL filled Kevin Friend’s mind six months ago.
They’ve since been replaced by headaches and dizziness.
A 23-year-old Warrenton native, Friend suffered two concussions during his redshirt senior season with the University of Connecticut football team this past fall. Those injuries were severe enough that the 2009 Fauquier High graduate decided to abandon his plan to pursue a career in professional football.
"It was tough," Friend said of his recent decision. "I still kind of second-guess things. … I’m an athlete. I want to compete. That’s my life. Not being able to is awful.
"But I started getting these migraines," he said, "and I’d get so dizzy and nauseous. It was unbelievable. That’s when I realized I don’t want to risk my health more."
A left tackle, Friend played in only five of Connecticut’s 12 games this past season. After using a redshirt his true freshman season, Friend started two games as a redshirt freshman and 23 more games over the ensuing two seasons as he developed into a potential NFL prospect.
"I think he could be a pro," Fauquier High football coach Jamie Carter said. "Obviously [projecting] that is a little above my pay grade, but he was ranked on some [NFL analysts] draft boards."
Since graduating from Fauquier, Friend has developed a 6-foot-6, 317-pound frame. He sometimes even returned to his old high school to work out during summers.
"That 317 in his chest and arms and lower body," Carter said. "He’s definitely an athlete. You look at the pros now – that’s the way they are. You can’t just be a fat guy, a slob. You’ve got to be athletic."
Friend suffered his first concussion this past August during the Huskies’ preseason training camp. He missed Connecticut’s first game of the regular season and then returned during Week Two only to sprain his ankle during the Huskies’ first offensive series against Maryland.
After sitting out against the Huskies’ next two opponents, Friend returned to play four full games. Then he suffered his second concussion during a practice in early November and had to miss Connecticut’s final four games.
"My season, it didn’t go the way I planned," he said. "It was very frustrating to not be able to be with my teammates … knowing we could have won games if I was in there, or [at least] got a run game going."
Friend’s recovery period following his first concussion stretched 19 days, he said, because he didn’t immediately realize he had suffered the head injury. The first concussion occurred during training camp two-a-day practices.
Friend felt a headache after practice one day, but assumed it came from the consistent contact and would dissipate. So he returned to practice the next day.
"But it was so bad I just got dizzy. I couldn’t think straight," he said. "I thought, ‘This is not normal.’ That’s when we realized I had a concussion."
Friend’s second concussion came in pass protection during practice. A blitzing linebacker made helmet-to-helmet contact with him. This time, he knew quickly he had suffered a head injury.
"It’s been pretty miserable. … I couldn’t sleep at all," Friend said. "It was such a short time between concussions, [doctors] said it was going to take a long time."
Doctors finally gave Friend clearance to resume weight lifting earlier this month. Nonetheless, 11 weeks after the second concussion, he still has symptoms.
"If I push it too hard in the weight room, I’ll still get headaches," he said. "They say if I get another hit to the head, it could really be bad. I just want my health. Football doesn’t last forever."
So, with an NFL career now off the table, Friend hopes to become a project manager for a construction company. A political science major, Friend would also like to stay involved with football in some way, perhaps as a high school coach.
"To help kids that are in the same situation as me in high school, and help them reach their full potential," he said. "That’s how I got a shot. I had coaches that believed in me and were able to help me out.
"It all started here in Fauquier," he said. "Without great coaches and great friends and the support in the community, I would have never been successful in D-I football."
Friend is back in Fauquier County now after finishing his required college courses, but he plans to return to Storrs, Conn., in May for a graduation ceremony. And perhaps for some reminiscing about his college football career.
While the Huskies haven’t had a winning season in three years (3-9 record in 2013; 5-7 in 2012; 5-7 in 2011), they put together one of the best seasons in history during 2010 with Friend as a redshirt freshman.
Connecticut won the Big East championship and qualified for the first BCS bowl since it became a Division I program in 2004.
"To do it in seven years, that was pretty amazing," Friend said. "The best memory was when I started against USF. It was a lot of pressure. That game decided if we were Big East Champs, and if we were going to a BCS bowl. I played really well.
"Just to be around my teammates that were so ecstatic and happy," he said. "It was so awesome to be a part of it."
In that game, the Huskies beat South Florida, 19-16, on a last second field and went on to play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They lost that bowl game, 48-20, to Oklahoma, but finished the season with an 8-5 record.
So, despite his serious injuries, Friend feels happy to have played Division I football.
"No regrets," he said. "I’m thankful for the opportunity. I know I was successful in things a lot of people don’t get" to experience.
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