South Carolina native Antonio Kinard is the the latest Liberty football player to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan.
By JOE SCALZO
Vindicator sports staff
When Antonio Kinard was a 13-year-old in Columbia, S.C., his mother, Sheila Cook, told him they’d soon be moving to Youngstown, Ohio.
“I was like, ‘Youngstown?’ ” he said.
“I didn’t know there was a place called Youngstown.
“I didn’t think about moving to Ohio. My life was going to be down south.”
What he did know was, he was leaving his friends and (extended) family behind.
And, for at least six months a year, he’d be leaving his swimsuit behind, too.
“I’d never seen so much snow,” said Kinard, who moved here with his mother, his older sister Jacquetta and younger sister Kaytlin.
“When I first saw it, it was coming up to my knees and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I’m used to 85-90 degree weather.
“I used to go outside and play in the snow all the time. Then it got annoying.”
Kinard, now a junior at Liberty High School, needed a year to get acclimated, but he’s since become comfortable and popular — and not just with his classmates.
The 6-3, 210-pound linebacker is one of the state’s top football prospects, committing to Michigan earlier this spring.
He’ll be the third Leopard to head north, joining Liberty seniors Fitzgerald Toussaint and Isaiah Bell, who will enroll this fall.
Warren Harding junior CB/WR Deaver Williamson, one of the area’s best track athletes, has also committed to the Wolverines.
Liberty has become a recruiting hotbed over the last six or seven years.
Former Iowa standout Bradley Fletcher became the first Liberty grad to get drafted in April, when he was selected in the third round by the St. Louis Rams.
Since Fletcher graduated, almost a dozen Leopards have gone on to play college football at Division I colleges.
One of those, Syracuse’s Ryan Gillum, was also one of the first people to befriend Kinard after he moved to Liberty.
“When I got around new people, I was all quiet and stuff, but he came up and said, ‘Hey, what’s happening? I heard you’re from South Carolina,” said Kinard. “After that, we became friends.”
Kinard decided to commit to Michigan a few months ago after visiting the school on Junior Day. One representative told him he could graduate in three years and focus on football for his fourth year, which was one of the things that sold him on Ann Arbor.
“I was like, ‘You know what? This is where I need to be at,’” said Kinard, who is leaning toward a business major.
“It’s a nice school, they’ve won the most national championships, they have the biggest stadium in the country and plus I’ve got a couple of my friends coming here. At least I know somebody.”
Kinard has since adjusted to the Buckeye State — he doesn’t have a Southern accent, outside of a few y’alls — but his classmates haven’t yet adjusted to all the Michigan recruits coming out of Liberty.
“People at my school are like, ‘Man, we might as well just change our name to Michigan,’” he said, smiling.
“But they were like, ‘You know what? We love O-State, but it’s all cool. We’ve got three people from Liberty going to Michigan and we hope they do well.’”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still get grief about it.
“I get that just about every day, to tell you the truth,” he said.
Kinard’s father, also named Antoio Kinard, was a track standout and the younger Antonio was a regional qualifier in the 4x100-meter relay (which was anchored by Toussaint) and the long jump.
But, like many of his classmates, his future is in football.
When asked what recruiters see in Liberty players, he said, “We’ve got good height, we’ve got speed and we can hit.
“We’ve got some nice hitters. That’s what’s common about this place.”