Players of the Pine Belt: Heidelberg's Khehland Kennedy

Players of the Pine Belt: Heidelberg's Khehland Kennedy

HEIDELBERG, MS (WDAM) - It's mid-July in Mississippi.

The heat index is sweltering and Khehlan Kennedy decided to wear long sleeves. But it's all good. Kennedy will take a few drops of sweat to make sure his Heidelberg Oilers are ready for football season come August 18.

"You're going to practice how you play," Kennedy said. "If you come out, lag around, you're going to lag around in the game. So you got to come out and work hard every day."

"Khehland is a kid that's been playing for us for three years now, three-year starter," said Heidelberg head coach Darius Dear. "And for him, it's the leadership, the effort. He's that kid that every Friday, every day at practice, he comes out and gives his best effort and it rubs off on the other players. He's kind of that molder for the team. All levels and all sports have that one player that's kind of like that molder. So when he's clicking, the team's clicking."

Things clicked for Heidelberg in 2016. The Oilers went 9-5, falling in the third round of the class 2A playoffs to 4-time defending champion Bassfield.

At linebacker, Kennedy racked up 75 tackles, 14 sacks and three blocked punts. The senior often lines up on the opposite side of the ball as well, earning him a nickname from coach Dear.

"The specialty guy," Dear said. I mean, he plays tight end for us, he's quarterback, he plays a little wideout for us. You got to have the best eleven on the field at all times. On the bigger levels and in college, guys are one-way players. But at this level, the numbers are small and your better athletes kind of have to kind of do it all for you."

While Kennedy captains the Oilers on the field, coach Dear's leadership on the sidelines has turned the Heidelberg program around.

After playing for Jones County Junior College, Dear returned to coach his alma mater at Heidelberg. Two years ago, he led the Oilers to their first winning season since 2006 - Dear's senior year of high school.

"Coach Dear has a big impact on the team," Kennedy said. "Ever since he came, season turned around 100 percent. Come out every day with effort, with the mentality to win."

The winning has returned, but Heidelberg still chases the school's first state championship.

Though their town is small, their aspirations are large. You can read it on their shirts, but you can see it in their attitude.

"For us, Heidelberg is a small town," Dear said. "But we take pride in it. This small town, this community, we try to rally together. We try to be one; unified for the kids and for each other."

"I'm just looking forward to coming out and compete," Kennedy said. "Work hard, Monday through Thursday and make our way to Oxford with an undefeated season."