Marchant Kenney remembers the 1997 football season
Southern Miss hosts North Texas at 6 p.m. Saturday; team will wear 1997 uniforms
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Everyone has a story to tell.
Former linebacker great and 2009 Southern Miss M-Club Hall of Fame inductee Marchant Kenney has some of his own. Twelve players' names from the 1997 Golden Eagle football team were eventually called during subsequent NFL Draft days, and Kenney himself had an opportunity as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals.
Kenney redshirted as a freshman before lettering from 1994-97. He saw action as a reserve linebacker and a key member of the special teams as a freshman and finished the year with 66 tackles, eight tackles for losses, a quarterback sack, an interception and recovered three fumbles. Kenney moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and finished third on the team in tackles with 93 and had eight tackles for losses, a quarterback sack and deflected five passes. He led the team in tackles as a junior with 141 and had 17 tackles for losses, three quarterback sacks, recovered two fumbles and had an interception. As a senior (and captain) he finished the season with 106 tackles with 13 tackles for losses, two quarterback sacks and an interception and finished his career with 406 tackles, 46 tackles for losses, seven quarterback sacks and three interceptions. He was named first team all-Conference USA in 1996 and 1997.
SouthernMiss.com caught up with Kenney on Wednesday.
On differences between the 1996 and 1997 teams:
"The biggest thing was we knew we had all the pieces together in 1996 and we fell short against Houston in an overtime game. It was a barn burner. The defense actually lost that game, we just couldn't stop them that night. It was just one of those games where we were off. What that did was cost us the C-USA Championship outright and going to the Liberty Bowl that year and that was hard watching Houston playing in that game. Back then, it wasn't like it is now where six teams from C-USA make a bowl because only the conference champ went to a bowl. So it was a big deal sitting at home and watching them play in the Liberty Bowl. Next year the team motto was called "unfinished business" and it basically revolved around blowing our chance in the Houston game in '96. We had all the pieces in place and a lot of returning talent and we just got after it. It was a mission to get to the Liberty Bowl and win the conference."
On what the Liberty Bowl meant to them:
"First off, it set the foundation how big a bowl was back then because only the conference champ went, so it was a big deal. The game was on New Year's Eve. It just turned into an event for Hattiesburg and all of the fans around the area of Hattiesburg. I remember I was one of the captains for the game and I looked into the stands and half of the stadium was full of Southern Miss fans. I almost fell down, I was so taken back and my goodness the whole city of Hattiesburg looked like was there. I was just like 'we're not losing today.' It was just on from there. Pitt didn't know what hit them. We were so talented and had all the pieces in place. We were the perfect machine at that point. I think we had the biggest bowl win as far as score in the entire bowl season, 41-7, and I think it was the biggest win in Liberty Bowl history as far as winning by 34 points. It was just one of those days. A lot of teams couldn't beat us that day. We would've given everyone in America a struggle at that point."
On favorite memories or stories from that season:
"From 1997, the best story was seeing some of the guys coming into their own. I'm not tooting my own horn, but I was preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year and they put a lot of hype to me, the marketing machine and things like that, but as the season went along... Patrick Surtain, Adalius Thomas, T.J. Slaughter, Perry Phenix, I mean some of these guys on defense just started coming into their own and my goodness man I need to up my game to keep up with these guys. Guys like AD [Adalius] went on to be on the cover of ESPN Magazine (Dec. 18, 2006), if you remember that. There are so many moments from that season, the Liberty Bowl obviously being the biggest, but just seeing the talent of these guys was awesome. Being a part of that."
On talking about the reunion:
"I've rounded up as many guys as I can through Instagram, through text and calls. It's been a big deal. 1996, last year, unfortunately I wasn't able to make it. There's still a sour taste from that season so maybe that's why it wasn't quite as much hype. I'm hoping a lot of guys show up to this. I'm really excited to get this team together. We think, I mean we're homers, but we think we're the greatest Southern Miss team of all time."
On the throwback uniforms:
"They look fantastic. Even the helmet logo. I'm really happy the guys are doing that."
On the middle of the season push:
"Basically we were so disappointed on having two losses. They were understandable. They were at Alabama and at Florida, the defending National Champion at Florida. We gave them all they wanted. We were so disappointed. Our goal was to be the first 10-win team that Southern Miss had had in a while, or at least that was a big goal of ours. After having two losses, we thought we had to make something special of this season. We had a theme and we went after it. That Cincinnati game was huge. Pat Surtain had a game-saving interception at the end there. But that was it. The two losses frustrated us and we knew we were better than that."
On any fun moments with the team:
"Adalius Thomas... You could not compete with him when he had his "pokin' fun" game face on. If you didn't have a strong character about yourself, he could hurt your feelings, but it was funny. Being on the bus together and joking around and AD just poking fun at somebody. Those are great moments ranting on each other. The stretch line before practice was hilarious. AD was one of a kind, talent and personality wise. He was the loudest one."
On any profound moments from that season:
"I would do myself and the team injustice if I didn't bring this up. Coach Bower's daughter died that season. That was going into the Nevada game that week. She died in a car accident and that's another thing that kind of pushed us to a whole other level. Watching coach Bower, our leader, the guy who brought us all there in the first place and created a family experience for us at Southern Miss, just handle the situation the way he did and still step up to the plate, knowing he had the support out of all of us and anything he needed from us and just the strength and character of him that the team grew. That week that he was dealing with that, all 100 of us went through a lot for coach. It was pretty special knowing all he went through. At the end of the Liberty Bowl I have a picture of him hugging his other daughter, walking to shake hands with the coach and accepting the Liberty Bowl trophy. I know that was a deep meaning picture for me because he's a special man. Having to lead us and deal with that into games every week and the way he did it, he was awesome. He's an awesome man."
We really thought we had a job to keep his spirits up, too. We were a jovial bunch. We had some good times."
Tickets for Saturday's 6 p.m., throwback-uniform game against North Texas can be purchased via SouthernMissTickets.com, 1-800-844-TICK, or visiting the Pat Ferlise Center on campus.