Living in his older brother’s shadow almost caused Cameron Kennedy to walk away from his wrestling career before it began.
The temptation was understandable. Jimmy Kennedy won two state championships at Grant, where he won 187 of his 190 matches before graduating in 2006. That success preceded four years at the University of Illinois, where he finished in the top five at the NCAA championships three times, earning All-America honors for each.
From afar, Jimmy worried about his younger brother’s attempts to keep pace. What he didn’t know, though, was that Cameron, who won this year’s Class 2A 126-pound state championship for Richmond-Burton, was secretly using Jimmy’s wrestling achievements to help define his own.
First to a state wrestling championship and then to a college career in the Big Ten.
“As jealous as you could get, he’s more of an idol to me,” said Cameron, who committed to wrestle at Michigan on Mon-day night. “Just to go to the places he’s
gone would be kind of nice and just do big things like he has.”
Cameron always took note of how Jimmy took care of his wrestling business, watching the moves he used to dominate his opponents in high school. When Jimmy would lose a match at Illinois, Cameron noticed how his older brother would learn from his mistakes, helping shape his own high school career.
From afar, Jimmy was careful to not over-step his bounds. He wanted to assist Cameron as much as he could, but he also wanted his younger brother to be able to create his own identity. That wouldn’t be easy if he would have stayed at Grant, where he would have constantly been held up to his brother’s standard.
Following that path caused Cameron to contemplate his future – one he considered without wrestling.
“He didn’t feel comfortalbe wrestling at Grant and wrestling behind me,” Jimmy said Wednesday night. “He put so much pressure on himself that it was almost stopping him from succeeding.”
Rather than quitting, Cameron decided to move in with relatives in Richmond, where he could carve out his own path. His brother’s success could serve as a guide without getting in the way of Cameron becoming his own wrestler.
Even though Cameron was at a different school, he still managed to carry on the family tradition.
“He’s always been known as Jimmy Kennedy’s little brother,” R-B wrestling coach Bret Wojcik said. “With some of that, I’m sure you get sick of it a little bit and you’re always trying to get out of Jimmy’s shadow, but at the same time, it’s great for Cam to learn from somebody who had so much success.”
Cameron improved throughout his career, leading to this year, when he went 44-1. He captured the 2A state championship when he scored a last-second reversal against Montini’s Jordan Laster to pull out a 3-2 victory. In Ann Arbor, Jimmy watched a webcast of the match and broke down when Cameron won a title in his final match at R-B.
The brotherly support system will continue at Michigan, where Jimmy works as an assistant coach with the university’s Cliff Keen club wrestling program. Having his brother there, Cameron said, was a major factor in choosing to go away to Ann Arbor for school. Cameron said he had interest from Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern as well as from smaller programs at Northern Michigan and Eastern Michigan.
Competing in the Big Ten has always been a goal for Kennedy, again using Jimmy’s time in the league as a roadmap. Throughout the recruiting process, Jimmy offered support, making it clear that Cameron had to go where he felt was best. At Michigan, Cameron found a successful wrestling program and a school where he could receive a quality education. Having his brother there for support was an added bonus.
Cameron’s college choice not only provides a bright future for wrestling, but reunites him with a brother who has been gone for the past eight years. Reuniting at Michigan will give Cameron the chance to learn from his older brother first-hand while also allowing the two siblings to rebuild a relationship that time and miles has put restrictions on since Jimmy left for college.
“Now that I’m going to be able to spend so much time with him and watch over him when he needs it, I think it’s a kind of redemption almost,” Jimmy said. “It’s definitely different, but it’s awesome.”