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Kenny Palmer is the 2014 Fauquier Times Fauquier High Boys Athlete of the Year

Wednesday, Jul. 9 | By Jeff Malmgren
Fauquier's Kenny Palmer played relatively unfamiliar positions as a senior football and lacrosse player, but still excelled in both. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/ Randy Litzinger
Kenneth Palmer had such a splendid senior year that it inspired his mother to buy a lottery ticket.

Just in case his fortune permeated the entire Palmer household.

Being named the 2014 Fauquier Times Fauquier High boys Athlete of the Year is only the latest in a long list of accomplishments for the recent graduate.

Last fall, Palmer helped lead the Falcons to the region football playoffs as a linebacker and long snapper.

In early May, his Fauquier classmates voted him prom king. Then he won a new car from a raffle at the post-prom party.

In June, he earned a spot on the all-Battlefield Group first team as a defenseman after leading the Fauquier lacrosse team to its first region-level playoff appearance in program history.

"This year has just been incredible,'" his mother, Shawn, said. "I was like, 'OK I need to go play the lottery.'"

Kenneth Palmer even attracted late interest from college lacrosse coaches and Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia eventually offered him a roster spot on its NCAA Division II team. He's still considering his future destination.

The 18-year-old would leave for college after establishing himself as a critical Fauquier defender in two sports who flourished as a senior leader.

"We’ll miss him. He ended up meaning a lot to us," Falcons football coach Jamie Carter said. "He’s a self-made man. He worked hard to get what he has. He maximized" his potential.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Palmer put on 20 pounds between his sophomore and senior years, giving him an intimidating presence on both the lacrosse and football field. He also established a reputation as the match stick when the Falcons needed some fire.

"In crucial moments in the game, when everyone’s quiet, I'd just pop up and say 'Let’s get it going,'" Palmer said. "I tried to get everyone’s head in the game – get rowdy and hit some people."

"He’s definitely a huge leader – the type of player that could really get anybody on the team motivated," Fauquier lacrosse coach Eric Morrison said. "When the chips are down you could count on him to look at the positives and not focus solely on the negatives."

Carter saw the same tendencies in Fauquier's football huddles.

"He always had a great attitude," the second-year coach said. "Games are supposed to be fun. He had a heck of a lot of fun playing.

"As a junior he wasn’t quite comfortable with that leadership role … but as a senior he totally embraced that," Carter said. "He’s one of the kids that the rest of the guys gravitate toward."

That was the case on and off the field, hence Palmer's prom king crown.

"It’s so funny because I don’t think of my kids like this," said Shawn Palmer, who has three boys and a daughter. "To me, part of him is still that pudgy kid [from middle school]. But now he's this big, strong, handsome and athletic guy. ... I'm watching my kid form into this great person."

Incidentally, she hasn't yet checked to see if that lottery ticket is a winner.

Her son should probably do the honors.

Switching poles

Kenneth Palmer played defense as a senior, but he still had some offensive residue flowing through his veins.

As a Fauquier lacrosse player, for example, he performed best when forcing a turnover, scooping up a ground ball and clearing it with a run up field toward the opposite goal. That often helped the Falcons effectively transition to offense.

"It added to quite a few goals," Eric Morrison said. "He became a force. … We felt comfortable that whenever he got the ball things were going to happen."

Palmer finished with only two goals in his career – both as a senior – but he facilitated many others.

“I always love when I have the ball," he said.

Palmer finished his senior season with 68 ground balls, boosting his career total to 153.

His knack for transforming those ground balls into offensive opportunities developed while playing attack in middle school and as a high school freshman and sophomore.

"He has great field of vision," Morrison said. "He's someone that knows what’s going to go on after two passes."

Palmer, however, didn't earn a spot in Fauquier's starting lineup as a sophomore attackman. So he began to rethink his role.

During a preseason scrimmage against Highland, he noticed a defender's long pole lying on the ground. He went over and picked it up.

"I said, 'I’m going to go in'" on defense, Palmer recalled. "Nobody believed me, but we were kind of low on defenders and everyone knew I could hit from football."

Palmer did enter that game with a long pole, and thus began his metamorphosis to defenseman.

"It was hard at first," he said.

His offensive background, however, helped him anticipate the moves of opposing attackman, so he could effectively keep his body between the ball and the goal. And Palmer eventually developed into "the rock" of Fauquier's defense, Morrison said.

The Falcons coach credited Palmer's improvement to summer training. Palmer played for both the BattleLax and NoVa West travel lacrosse teams between seasons at Fauquier.

"He always came back with a couple more skills, Morrison said. "The cool thing about Kenny was he was continually learning. His lacrosse IQ was continually rising.

"His stick skills improved dramatically," Morrison said. "He was always a [physical] force, but as he matured he was force with a lot of lacrosse skills."

This past season, Palmer and the Fauquier defense allowed 7.3 goals per game en route to advancing to the quarterfinals of the Battlefield Group tournament. The Falcons lost that region-level game, 14-7, to Atlee, but they didn't allow more than 11 goals in any other game en route to an 8-5 record.

Fauquier's offense, meanwhile, scored 10.8 goals per game last season. Watching all that action from the defensive end, Palmer at times missed playing attack.

"Every time we scored a goal, I’d just remember that feeling," he said. "But I don’t really regret" moving to defense.

Craving contact

Kenneth Palmer also switched positions in football.

He went from being a backup quarterback as a freshman to playing defensive end as a sophomore and junior to playing linebacker as a senior. He started about half of the Falcons' 2012 games as a defensive end before becoming a full-time starter at linebacker in 2013.

“I’ll give him credit for changing positions that late in his career," Jamie Carter said. "He was too good not to be on the field and we had good depth on the defensive line."

That line included all-conference selections in seniors Marcus Smith and Ryan McCray. Fauquier's linebacker corps, meanwhile, lacked depth behind sophomore Louis Heisler, so Palmer made the move.

"He’d do whatever we needed him to do," Carter said. "He’s a big body that could also move around, and he had a good nose for the football."

Plus, in the offseason, Palmer had slimmed down while adding speed and strength. That made him a better fit at linebacker.

He finished his senior season as one of Falcons' leading tacklers after starting the season strong with 20 tackles during Fauquier's first three games. He also added two fumble recoveries and an interception by season's end.

"Linebacker was really fun because you're out in the open and can drop back in pass coverage … and you get bigger hits,"

"Whenever you hit someone and feel them go in the air, that’s probably my favorite moment in all of sports," he said.

Unsurprisingly, Palmer developed a reputation as a physical player and big hitter, especially in lacrosse. A collision with Palmer in the defensive area often put an opponent on the grass, and put opposing fans in a tizzy.

“He had a pretty big rep," Morrison said. "But I don’t think he was a big, nasty hitter. He was just so much bigger than a lot of the kids out there. The collisions often looked a lot worse than they were."

As a junior, Palmer enticed his share of penalty flags as he brought a football mentality to the lacrosse field. As a senior, though, he better regulated his penchant for popping opponents.

"We just sat down with him and told him, ‘You … want to be known for being a good player, not for being a thug," Morrison said. "When you also have the knowledge and skills, then you’re a double threat."

Palmer became just that.

"It’s a different style of defense – like playing a more-physical basketball defense," Palmer said, comparing lacrosse to football. "My senior year I was more accustomed to it and could control myself more."

Morrison estimated that Palmer had only four penalties as a senior.

Regardless, Palmer remained an intimidating force. He became a bruiser after working with Fauquier strength coach Ryan Bailey.

"A warrior in the weight room," Carter said. "He turned into a real physical kid. And there were very few that played with more heart or harder than him."

Altered path

Growing up in southern Warrenton near Opal, Kenneth Palmer and his brothers looked forward to one day playing for a Liberty High football team that had established itself as the best program in Fauquier County.

Then Kettle Run High opened in 2008 and the county drew new school district lines. So the Palmer boys ended up going to Fauquier rather than Liberty.

"They were upset" at first, Shawn Palmer said. "But I'm glad that we ended up at Fauquier. We have a lot of pride in it. It's a family school. It has that togetherness."

Her oldest son, Paul, played for Fauquier one year before Kenneth Palmer arrived. Watching his older brother play for the Falcons gave Palmer some time to adjust his dreams.

"I just wanted to be a Fauquier football player and wanted to be one of those guys in the newspaper," he said.

Palmer eventually joined his brother in the Fauquier football program.

"I'd be 'Baby Paul' or 'Little Paul,'" Palmer said. "When I finally got out on the field I started challenging my brother a little. And everybody was like, 'Ooohh.'"

Palmer began playing football during second grade. Each season, he was on a Fauquier Youth Football team with either his younger brother, Thomas, or his older brother.

"That helped a lot," he said. "I was a little kid and scared sometimes. My [older] brother was always kind of there for me."

Palmer got a later start as a lacrosse player. His introduction to that sport came in sixth grade because a friend of his mother had a family – the Begleys – heavily involved in Fauquier youth lacrosse.

"She said bring the boys – we want the boys to play," Shawn Palmer recalled. "I said we couldn’t afford it. She said they had equipment; they’d lone us equipment. And that’s how it started."

That offer ended up coming back to bite Scott Begley this past high school season. The head coach of Kettle Run's lacrosse team, Begley lost to Palmer's Falcons three times. Fauquier even knocked the Cougars out of the Battlefield Group tournament en route to winning the championship.

"That made me feel really good," Palmer said.

- - - - -

The Palmer File

Family: Father, Kevin, is a mechanic. Mother, Shawn, works at the Warrenton Training Center. Sister, Caitlin, 21, is trying to become a nun at a convent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brother, Paul, 19, works as a mechanic at Marshall Ford. Brother, Thomas, 16, is a rising junior at Fauquier.

Favorite restaurant: Chipotle. "I always go there after we workout. It always pops into my head when we’re hungry.”

Favorite movie: "Bridesmaids." “It’s kind of funny. I like to watch it with my friends.”

Favorite place: “I kind of like Fauquier County. Everybody [in high school] says they hate it and want to get out. But somewhere around the water is the only place I’d rather be … Anywhere with my friends. I’m always happy around them. It doesn’t matter where it is.”

Favorite music artist: Kid Rock. "He can sing rap, country. It doesn’t matter what it is, he can do it and sounds pretty good. I like his personality and his lyrics. He's kind of an independent kind of guy.”

Favorite actor: Kid Rock in "Joe Dirt."

Favorite evening activity: “Going to Denny’s late night with the crew. Just hanging out with all dudes and only dudes.”

Favorite teams: Redskins. “Just because it’s the hometown team. I’ve always rooted for them.”

Favorite athlete: “It was Michael Vick. I just thought he was one of the best quarterbacks when I was younger. But he wasn’t my favorite player after the dog fighting.”

Favorite video game: FIFA

Favorite food: Chicken Alfredo.

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