Aggies WR Kennedy emerging as weapon

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When his number was called, Malcome Kennedy knew it was time to make a play.

It was a catch on a day Aggies won't soon forget. For Kennedy, it signified the start of something bigger, the expansion of his role as a weapon in Texas A&M's offense. The fact that the Aggies could trust Kennedy in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the 2012 season -- at No. 1 Alabama -- meant he was ready to show he belonged.

So when Johnny Manziel looked Kennedy's way with 8:37 remaining on Nov. 10, 2012, Kennedy delivered with a touchdown that would serve as the final A&M points in the Aggies' 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"That was a great time," Kennedy said. "All I can remember is them calling the route and me knowing I had to win on that route."

Kennedy's post-corner route, in which he beat Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and hauled in a wobbly Manziel pass at the end of it, helped the Aggies pull off the signature win of their inaugural SEC season. While that remains the foremost highlight on Kennedy's reel, he's beginning to build a solid résumé full of touchdowns and receptions of all types, emerging as a reliable second receiving option next to potential All-American and sophomore standout Mike Evans.

"I think after last year, after the Alabama game, Malcome's been that guy," head coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. "He didn't do much the first six games last year with Ryan [Swope] being as good as he was, but I think ever since the catch at Alabama a year ago, which was a big-time play, I think he's continued to become an every-down, really good player. He's been solid for us through the bowl game last year and really had a good offseason. I think he's playing at a really, really high level, blocking well and has made some big plays for us even last week [against Alabama]."

When the Aggies and Crimson Tide had their rematch on Sept. 14, 2013, Evans stole the show among receivers. He broke an A&M record with 279 receiving yards. But Kennedy quietly had a strong game, catching six passes for 57 yards and three touchdowns. All three of those touchdowns came in the second half as the Aggies attempted to narrow the lead Alabama built in its eventual 49-42 victory.

"As much as publicity as Mike got, which he had an excellent football game, I saw a couple of touchdowns that got us back in the game out of Malcome Kennedy right in the middle of the field," Sumlin said. "He's going to be working there, he's doing a good job, he's a real leader for us and I'm really, really happy for his progress."

Texas A&M's 42-13 win over SMU on Saturday brought similar production, as Kennedy led the team in receptions (six), yards (83) and had another touchdown. He has at least three receptions in each of the Aggies' four games this season, he leads the team in touchdown catches (four) and is second in catches (19) and receiving yards (218). Receivers coach David Beaty praised Kennedy's work this offseason and emergence as a leader in the receivers' meeting room.

"He's actually getting a chance to really show what he can do," senior running back Ben Malena said. "He's so versatile, he has really good strength. ... For Malcome Kennedy, that's what you can expect from week-to-week. He's very consistent on the practice field, he gives 100-percent effort all the time. He's just a pro. He's a very consistent guy."

Kennedy's emergence is important for the Aggies on multiple levels. For starters, if opposing defenses focus extra attention on Evans, it potentially opens up the middle of the field for others, including Kennedy. Should the junior receiver prove capable of making those teams pay by catching passes across the middle, it forces those teams to make tough choices.

And if Kennedy can keep his consistency, it helps A&M replace the production it got from one of the school's all-time best receivers statistically, Swope. It was Swope, a senior last season, who had the biggest game against Alabama and was the second-leading receiver in terms of yardage for the Aggies in 2012. The Y receiver position that Swope played -- which Kennedy now mans -- is a key role in the Aggies' spread offense.

"Basically I try to be a go-to guy," Kennedy said. "I know Johnny tries to throw it to Mike a lot, and Mike's a big target, but we've got an inside game with the slot receivers. I try to be a third-down warrior. Basically trying to move the sticks and be a sure-handed man on the team."

Those are things Swope was a year ago. If Kennedy can keep building on his success and continue to develop a good chemistry with Manziel, it can only be a positive for the A&M passing game and make Kennedy known for more than just one big catch.

"Developing chemistry with Johnny is something we've done ever since the pass at Alabama," Kennedy said. "He's really putting a lot of trust in me, and I just try catch everything that's thrown my way. Throughout the fall camp and beginning of this year, he's really looking toward me to hit me as a moving target. I really believe that we're on the same page and I'm on the way to being a bigger guy than I was last year."