Chapter 13 – Kenny – “I can do all things through He who strengthens me”
Kenny was my brother. My one and only sibling, he was 4 and half years older than I, and had a huge impact on my life in every way. Next to my father, Kenny was the most influential man in my life. He was born February 25, 1960 and named Kenneth Charles DeFeo by our parents. My father was a good teacher in many ways and Kenny was the ultimate pupil. He had so much going for him, handsome, smart, athletic, kind and humble.
We played together when we were young, our family was a package deal, since I was younger I was always there at every sporting he ever played. I was kind of the mascot for many of the teams he played on. As we grew older, we became more than brothers, we were great friends, he was my mentor, guardian and meant everything to me. I was his sidekick.
My brother was well liked by everyone I knew of, adults, girls, boys, animals. I never heard anyone say anything bad about him.
He was a star in just about everything throughout grade school, high school, college and life. I never ever heard him talk about himself or his accomplishments, he would always find something nice to say about another so he could pump them up instead of himself.
One of his high school friends told me he would money under his plate when he came over and had a meal. He was such a gentlemen; several women I have run into that went to school with him still beam about him when talking of him to me. A woman who went to grade school with Kenny actually had tears in her eyes when she spoke of how nice and kind he was toward her.
I am not joking when I write that Kenny was a living saint to me and others. Sister Agnes, who taught Kenny in high school while at Monsignor Bonner said it best – “Kenny DeFeo had goodness written all over his face”. Kenny was an honor student, member of student council, National Honor society, natural-born leader, very good athlete and tremendous football player. For all of his goodness and kindness, I can honestly say when he played sports he was an absolute terror. Maybe the toughest I have ever seen on any level. In High School he was elected captain of the football and baseball teams. He helped lead the varsity baseball team to the league championship game as a junior. He threw the shotput for the track team. He was actually a good basketball player as well, however football is the sport he made his mark in. Before he graduated high school he had one every award imaginable and I can tell you he would have traded all the individual awards in for a team championship. He was selected all league twice, all county and honorable mention All State, and was touted in pre-season before his senior football season as All American; and all this playing on a losing team and playing his entire senior football season with a nagging injury. He never missed a play. He was an interior lineman as well so no glory position for him. He was awarded the John Cappelletti award at Bonner, given to the student who most exemplifies Bonner High inside and outside the classroom and on the fields of play. Teachers loved him. I run into teachers today who still speak so highly of him.
Kenny was such an amazing football player, even at a young age, that when he was playing little league football for my father who was the coach of his team then, yes, he had a great teacher, have I mentioned that?, he started at center when he was 11 years old on a team and in a league that had players as old as 14!
Back to high school, Kenny started in football at Bonner as a sophomore, junior and senior on both Offense and Defense and hardly ever got a break, he rarely was taken out for 3 straight seasons. That is a rare accomplishment. I went to and played for a different high school and our coach would not even let anyone, no matter how good you were start on both offense and defense in the same game. It may have happened once or twice for one or two games due to an injury to another player.
Kenny and my friend Gerry Feehrey, who played at arch rival Cardinal O’Hara, where I went and played were the two best lineman in the league and county. They were in the same grade and were rivals throughout grade school and High School. O’Hara was a much stronger team, one of the best in the area.
Gerry was one of the toughest to play the game, after High School he went to Syracuse where he starred and captained the team. As an undrafted free agent rookie in 1983 Gerry earned a spot on the Eagles and eventually became the starting center and had close to 10 year NFL career. I am blessed to call Gerry friend and to have gotten to coach with him during the 2014 season at O’hara high school.
Gerry and Kenny developed a friendship and respect for each other out of rivalry. The reason I bring this up is to explain that during those games in high school playing against each other, Kenny had to go nose to nose with Gerry while on defense and then turn around and play offense having to block against an O’Hara Linebacker who also went on to play Division 1 college football where he also starred and captained the team. As I said earlier O’Hara players were not allowed to play on both Offense and defense so those guys got to rest and take a break while Kenny never came off the field except for a few special team plays, all this while nursing an injury no one even knew about. O’Hara won the game by a wide margin and Kenny gave all the credit to those guys, but believe me he played tough and had a good game.
Gerry and Kenny always gave equal praise to each other, and I will never forget Gerry’s kind gesture after Kenny’s passing by calling the newspaper and making sure they wrote a nice article and obituary.
After high school graduation Kenny attended the United States Naval Academy and had a very good freshman season on the freshman team. At that time freshman could only play on the freshman team. He became an expert marksman in shooting a gun that year at the Naval Academy as well as being graded as a top boxer and wrestler, all things required at the Academy. Things didn’t work out for him and he quickly transferred out having to attend Community College for a semester and then enrolling and walking on to the Villanova University football team in 1979 as he was ineligible to play that season due to transfer status and thus not awarded a scholarship.
My brother had such a quiet strength and determination it was really scary. So for the 1979 season he could only practice with the team, he was relegated to scout team and my parents paid for his college. Kenny was never one to feel sorry for himself for too long or wait for something to happen. He made things happen. So, instead of sulking on the scout team, and that word was not even in his vocabulary, he played every practice like his life depended on it. Now the team was pretty good that year and had some great and very good players. Howie Long, who went on and starred in the NFL becoming and NFL hall of famer was on that team, along with two other players, one of which went on to finish his college career as starter for Ohio State, after Villanova dropped its football program after the 1980 season and then he went on to start at linebacker for The Cleveland Browns, and the other was a defensive back who went on to start in the USFL professional football league. They had many other good players on the Villanova defense as well and since Kenny played offense he had to block these guys during practice.
Well let me tell you he not only did a great job, he was overwhelmingly great to the point that these players who were stars were not too happy with him because they protected themselves and did not want to get hurt. After about 2 weeks of playing on the scout team the coaches decided to award him a full scholarship and take him off the scout team. I would like to add that the great Howie Long, and yes he was great, did not enjoy having to face Kenny. I am not proposing that Howie was scared, but Howie knew that this was practice and that he would have to exert maximum effort in practice when facing Kenny so not to be beat or even embarrassed as Kenny played with such a high motor all the time it was frightening, and even though he was always the shortest lineman, only 5’11”, he was so powerfully built at 250 lbs, so incredibly strong and quick off the ball and fearless! He was really hard for anyone to handle.
How do I know all this? I have inside information. When I played football at Ursinus college later on one of Villanova’s coaches at the time Kenny was there coached me at Ursinus. In addition, one of Kenny’s teammates and good friend while at Villanova also became a coach at Ursinus while I played there, and those two told me these stories.
In the 1980 season Kenny earned a starting position on the offensive line and helped the team to a winning record. The Villanova administration decided to drop the football program even though they were good citing financial reasons I believe.
My brother had 2 years of college eligibility left and wanted to continue to play so he had to transfer yet again, talk about perseverance and a positive attitude. He went to what is now called The University of Memphis and within 3 months not only became the team’s starting center, but was named Team Captain and awarded MVP of the team, as an offensive lineman! Unheard of! The team was not very successful but Kenny finished a great individual career while at Memphis. He got to play in the New Orleans Superdome against Tulane, he also got to play nose to nose in games against 2 all-time greats, Reggie White and Bruce Smith, he also got to play against a Herschel Walker lead team who was ranked number 1 in the country at the time and against the Bobby Bowden led Florida State Seminoles. All of Memphis’ home games were played in the beautiful Liberty Bowl stadium. He played against many other great players including Johnnie Cooks from Mississippi State who went on and started at LB for the NY Giants and Mark Clayton from Louisville who became one of Dan Marino’s favorite targets with the Miami Dolphins. Kenny was given press by Memphis as a pre-season Outland trophy candidate before the 1982 season. The Outland trophy is awarded to the “best” offensive lineman in college football. As I said earlier the team was not successful and it’s hard to achieve individual awards when your team does not win games very often. Kenny was still named All Metro Conference center. Dave Rimmington who played for Nebraska and had a nice pro career won the Outland Trophy that season.
Kenny never complained through all this, he worked so hard I can’t even tell you and I know this because he, along with my father and mother, is the reason I had a successful High School and small college football career. The summer before my junior year in High School, while Kenny was still playing at Villanova he took me under his wing when it came to weightlifting, training, running, agility, nutrition, everything and showed me what it takes to become a real football player and believe me I probably held him back because I was younger, smaller and not as strong. He could have been training with his college teammates but that was the kind of person he was. I owe a lot to Kenny and I am just scratching the surface because through all this adversity Kenny faced his faith grew stronger.
So, Kenny’s college football career and ultimately his entire football career ended at Memphis. He went undrafted by both the USFL and NFL pro teams, even though the Seattle Seahawks actually worked him out, his lack of height caused all teams to refrain from drafting him. His college coach wanted to help him get a rookie free agent tryout with a team, and he could have but he decided not to. He was reluctant to move yet again, and he was planning to be married and he actually fell in love with Memphis so he graduated and went into the trucking industry as a manager.
Memphis is in the heart of the Baptist Bible belt and Kenny got involved with the fellowship of Christian Athletes while playing football at Memphis and became a practicing Baptist, even though he was born and raised Catholic like me. This was really hard for my parents to understand and they did not like it. I was only 18 at the time so I was not sure what to make of this, but I can tell you Kenny was the most sincere person I knew as well. He put his heart and soul into anything he did, just like our Pop taught both of us to do. He absolutely believed he was doing the correct thing and he came to know and love Jesus like no person I had known before. In less than a year it appeared he had the Bible memorized, yet he was so loving and compassionate never condemning anyone but he lived the faith that he now practiced. He gave me a bible and a prayer-book and I read it. My parents ultimately grew in faith because God used Kenny as His instrument.
My Christmas present from Kenny in 1981 was a plaque with the Bible quote – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. It still hangs in my house. It was the first Bible quote I memorized and will always be my favorite. I recite it every day early in the morning and say thank you Kenny.
Growing up the four of us, my parents, Kenny and I were a tight-knit group and as time marches on as my dad liked to say and the children become adults things change especially if you move far away, but that is life and God’s plan sometimes. Kenny has 3 beautiful children, all adults with families of their own now and I am proud of them. Kenny worked in the trucking industry in management for the rest of his life and became a faithful and practicing Baptist until he passed on from this life to the next suddenly from a heart attack at age 37 on December 28, 1997.
God works in mysterious ways. He used Kenny to increase our faith, my mother, father and me. We actually became more Catholic and grew deeper in our faith studying and reading scripture and the teachings of The Catholic Church.
When I visited my brother I would go to his church and he would go to ours when he visited with my parents and I.
We stayed as close as possible for living so far away from each other. We spoke by phone about every week and we would never say goodbye without saying I love you and I am proud of you to each other and he would always say it first. He was my biggest fan and I was his biggest fan.
I miss him and it would have been nice to grow old together and talk and share life but God had other plans. He, like my Pop, are now Angels on my shoulders.
Kenny’s high school friends started a memorial scholarship in his name in 1998 and we still run it to this day. Kenny DeFeo was inducted into his High School Hall of fame posthumously in 2006 and also inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Delaware County Chapter in 2009.
I still to this day run into people at times and when I tell them my name they say are you related to Kenny DeFeo? And then they go on and say he was a legend.
I am honored when people call me Kenny as they sometimes do. I am honored to be his brother and know him for 33 years. My parents handled his death with grace, dignity and strong faith in God, and always said Kenny was a gift to them for 37 years. Yes, he was. Kenny was a gift to many and touched many lives in different parts of the country. He has 5 grandchildren and I will make sure they all remember the kind of man he was. Good and kind, one of the toughest there ever was, and most importantly a child of God, follower of Jesus and inspiration to many.
When we give a scholarship in Kenny’s name, the student Athlete and the families are so appreciative. We took a tragedy and made good out of it. Romans 8:28 states – “God makes all things for good for those who love Him and His righteousness and are called according to his purpose”.
It is important to keep moving forward while never forgetting, living, loving and laughing as well, all in and for His glory!
I love you Kenneth Charles DeFeo, and I am proud of you! Rest in Peace in the loving arms of your beloved Jesus forever!!! You make me proud to be the brand DeFeo and a Christian!!! Thank you for strengthening me and sharpening me. Even though you are physically gone from us I will make sure you are never forgotten. We are brothers forever!!!