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The way Kamalie Pemberton saw it, only one option existed.
No way was he going to forgo his senior football season at Bishop Hendricken and use the fall months as prime practice time for the upcoming indoor track season. How his junior season on the gridiron played out … let’s just say it supplied Pemberton with plenty of motivation.
“I had to turn it around. I had to buy in and focus,” said Pemberton.
It’s a redemption tale that started with Pemberton looking directly at the person in the mirror. He understood that he had the power to change the narrative following the 2021 “Fall II” season that tested him on many levels. He opened the campaign as a starting cornerback before circumstances arose that prompted a change.
“The easiest way to put it is that he didn’t play the way he or to some extent the coaching staff expected him to,” said Hendricken head coach Keith Croft.
By no means did the Hawks give up on Pemberton when he began to struggle. They tried him at slot wide receiver. Defensively, he rotated between middle linebacker and defensive end.
There were times, however, when the situation bore resemblance to trying to stick a square peg into a round hole.
Pemberton owns the kind of freakish athleticism that makes him a natural fit to be out there. The question was, where did a player who had lost his starting gig exactly fit into the equation? Pemberton did play a healthy number of snaps when Hendricken defeated rival La Salle for the spring season state championship. Still, it was a season that was far from smooth sailing.
— Kamalie Pemberton (@KamalieP) September 12, 2021
“I struggled to stay with it. Last year felt like a job more than anything,” said Pemberton.
To his everlasting credit, Pemberton stuck with football.
“At end of last season with how it ended for me personally, I wanted to come back with something to prove,” he said.
Noted Croft, “Never once did I see him pout, nor did he ever go to the coaches to express his desire to play more.”
Officially, the road to becoming a captain who these days starts at running back and safety for the Hawks began not long after Pemberton was part of the top 4×200-relay team at the outdoor state meet held in late June.
“I went straight to the weight room and attended as many summer practices as I could,” said Pemberton.
In some respects, Pemberton benefited from a shorter than normal offseason that high school football players in Rhode Island had to contend with. The Super Bowl win over La Salle took place the day before Mother’s Day. By mid-July, teams around the state were already gathering with an eye towards a more traditional fall season.
“I can’t say enough about how he treated what was a quick offseason. He came into preseason camp in tremendous shape and ready to be a leader,” said Croft. “He came in with a chip on his shoulder.”
To Croft, Pemberton epitomizes the mantra that he preaches to his team.
“Do it through actions. Not words. If you’re upset that you’re not playing or because you think you should be playing more, work harder in practice,” said the coach. “That’s exactly what Kamalie did.”
It helped Pemberton knowing that he had a spot waiting for him in the backfield. He was the starting running back on the Hendricken freshman team and learned some of the tricks of the position’s trade at the youth level.
“Football was fun for me again,” said Pemberton. “This year, I want to be here. I want to compete during every practice.”
— Bishop Hendricken High School (@HendrickenHawks) September 28, 2021
His teammates noticed a change in his approach. At Hendricken, captains are voted on by the players. Croft was hopeful that Pemberton would be elected by his peers.
When the time came for the captains to be announced, Croft couldn’t wait to share the story of Pemberton’s road to football redemption.
“He’s an example to the younger guys on the team. He never stopped working and never stopped believing in himself,” said Croft. “I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s been a tremendous asset to our program. When he speaks, the kids listen. He’s really made this year enjoyable to be around.”
Mind you we’re talking about an asset on both sides of the ball – a distinction that has a nice ring to it. To Pemberton, nothing means more to him than being known as a dependable sort on both offense and defense. Call it a feeling that represents a far cry from how his junior season played out.
“Thinking back to sophomore year, there were a lot of two-way players. Everyone wants to be that guy,” said Pemberton. “It’s now pretty nice to be able to say that.”