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Running Down A Dream

Division III product Mason Kinsey has his sights set on a roster spot with the Tennessee Titans.

It was a blustery, early spring day in Carrollton, Georgia, where Mason Kinsey held his junior day for the two NFL scouts who made their way to Berry College.

As the rain continued to fall, Kinsey reared up to run the 40-yard dash, and Tony Kunczewski, Berry’s head coach, realized what he was watching.

“I will never forget when he ran that 40, and Mason – in adverse conditions – ran in the low 4.5s,” Kunczewski said. “Keith Jennings from the Bills did the handheld time, and I will never forget his face.

“That’s when I knew Mason Kinsey had a legitimate shot at the NFL.”

Before he caught the eyes of NFL scouts and before he signed with the Tennessee Titans, which made him the first player in Berry history to get an NFL contract, Kinsey took what he called “the path less traveled” and went the extra mile more often than not. And that, according to Kunczewski, is what makes Kinsey’s story so special.

Anyone who paid an ounce of attention to Berry football – a Division III program – over the last four years knows what the 5-foot-10, 198-pound wide receiver accomplished.

After seeing limited action his freshman year (2016), Kinsey became a world beater as he repeatedly torched defenses that oftentimes focused their gameplans on him. Over his final three seasons, Kinsey caught 194 passes for 3,242 yards and 49 touchdowns.

“The interesting thing about Mason is, this just goes to show you that the file doesn’t lie,” Kunczewski said. “Maybe the competition at this level isn’t going to be up to par with the SEC-caliber talent, but Mason was so extremely productive here.”

What most people didn’t see was what Kinsey did behind the scenes to fulfill his lifelong dream of having a crack at the NFL.

Division III student-athletes don’t receive the lucrative scholarships their Division I counterparts do. So, Kinsey improvised. He obtained Berry College’s Gate of Opportunity Scholarship, which helped him pay for most of his schooling.

The scholarship, however, required Kinsey to live at Berry year-round for four years. It also required him to work 20 hours per week during the academic year, and 40 hours per week during the summer. On top of a crowded training schedule, Kinsey made it work.

“We had our own offseason program here last spring,” Kunczewski said. “And when the NFL became a real possibility for him, he would drive down twice a week to Norcross. Atlanta traffic is tough, and Norcross is kind of on the other side of Atlanta from where we’re at. It would be an almost two-hour commute, and he would do it to get extra training with them on top of what we were already doing for football.

“He was able to get it done in the classroom, get it done on the field, get the extra training, plus do his scholarship obligations with this work scholarship. That’s in his DNA. He’s a worker.”

One of his high school coaches, Benji Harrison, saw all the same things.

Kinsey was one of the first players Harrison met after he became the head football coach at Habersham High School in Mt. Airy, Georgia. Harrison only coached Kinsey for one year but learned quickly that the senior had the makings of a professional athlete.

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Habersham competes against some of the top football players Georgia has to offer. Those were the matchups, Harrison said, Kinsey relished.

“He likes going against the best guys,” Harrison said. “He’s always had a chip on his shoulder, and I mean that in a good way. Just to prove that he could play at the highest level.

“The first day I met him it was, ‘What do I need to do to get better?’ We’ve had some talented receivers over the years, but what separates Mason is his drive, his work ethic. He’s not scared to put in extra work. It’s all paid off for him.”

At the outset of his high school career, Kinsey hoped to be Habersham’s running back, but after he realized the team already had a feature back, he switched to wide receiver. He also turned his attention to basketball.

“In ninth grade, the doctor told me I was going to be 6-3,” Kinsey said in an exclusive interview with AllTitans. “So, I was thinking, ‘I am going to Duke to play basketball.’ That’s definitely not the case.”

Fortunately for him, it was also about that time that he met Tavarres King. A Habersham graduate who starred at the University of Georgia and eventually played 17 games in the NFL for two teams (Tampa Bay and the N.Y. Giants), King became Kinsey’s mentor.

“He just took me under my wing and helped me as a receiver,” Kinsey said. “Words can’t even describe what he’s done for me as a player. He’s shown me the ins and outs, and how to be a better football player. Without him, there’s no way that I am in the position I am in right now. I owe the world to him.”

While Kinsey has made a name for himself as a wide receiver with great hands and precise route-running ability, he understands that being versatile makes him all the more valuable, especially in the NFL.

At Berry, he volunteered to play on special teams, primarily as a kick returner, Kunczewski said. The majority of those opportunities came last fall, when he returned 30 kicks for 556 yards and one touchdown.

Kinsey prides himself on his competitiveness and willingness to do whatever the team needs. If the Titans asked him to be the water boy, he said he’d do it with a smile on his face.

“I am willing to do anything on special teams, honestly,” he said. “I want to make an impact on the game in any way possible. … It doesn’t matter if I am washing my clothes. I want to be the best at it. I want to make the roster and help this team. I am going to do that with a chip on my shoulder and do it to the best of my ability.”

As Kinsey continued to evolve, more NFL scouts took notice. According to Kunczewski, around 25 teams sent talent evaluators to games and practices last fall and all eventually asked the same question: “What’s going to prevent Mason from making it?”

“I said, ‘It’s just going to be that he’s not good enough. It’s not going to be because of work ethic or anything else,’” Kunczewski said. “He’s going to give Tennessee all that he’s got, and we believe it’s going to be good enough.”

He added that a number of those scouts compared Kinsey to established NFL wide receivers such as Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

“It’s not my job to mimic anyone’s game or play like anyone else,” Kinsey said. “I am going to play the best type of football Mason Kinsey knows how to play, and that’s what I plan on doing.

“I didn’t ever think of it as being the first guy in school history [to make it to the NFL], but as my dream job. This is what I have always wanted to do.”