Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
Mason Kinsey made Berry history on April 25, becoming the first Viking ever to sign with a NFL team when he joined the Tennessee Titans as a free agent. Though he was then cut when the team submitted their final 53-man roster on Sept. 5, Mason has since joined the New England Patriots’ practice squad, where he hopes to make his mark and continue his NFL journey.
Mason is not the only one reaping the rewards of his transition to the professional leagues; Berry has gained visibility through Mason’s success as well. Tony Kunczewski, head football coach, said he has high hopes that newfound notoriety can help Berry’s recruiting.
“I think it’s great exposure for Berry football and it’s great exposure for Berry College as well,” Kunczewski said. “It’s too early to tell exactly what effect that will have, but I can tell you it won’t have a negative effect. We really hope it’s going to have a positive effect, and I think it will, just from the fact that it brings more positive notoriety to the school and the football program.”
Kunczewski said he hopes that increased appeal can help the program reach its next level.
“Our recruiting has changed at Berry over the last probably two or three years, and I think that’s attributed to a lot of things,” Kunczewski said. “We’re now recruiting against some bigger schools, bigger in the sense of some higher classifications, division two, FCS institutions, that quite frankly we want to be competing against. Because for us to take the next step in our program, we’re going to have to get some impact guys like that that can compete with the top 10 in the country at our level.”
For freshman safety Kris Thomas, that positive impact is already clear, as he said Mason was one of the reasons he chose Berry.
“Coach Masters was telling me about Mason Kinsey, telling me how he’s an NFL prospect and he’s going to get drafted or go into the league in the coming year,” Thomas said. “That just made it exciting. Like, I’m getting recruited by a place that has NFL prospects. I think that brings kind of a respect about Berry that we have somebody in the NFL that came from our school. Even though we’re just a liberal, small school, it’s like we can still hang with the bigger schools and stuff like that. We can still produce athletes.”
Junior cornerback Jordan Wilson said Mason’s teammates were also excited to watch him join the NFL as it gave some of them the belief that they could do it as well.
“He has definitely made us feel like we have a shot, like we can make it,” Wilson said. “He set the example, kind of lead the way, to show us it’s possible for us to get to the highest level.”
Junior H-back Garrett Kinsey, Mason’s brother, said it was more than just Berry, but all of DIII that could profit from Mason’s success.
“I think in the sports world and in the DIII world, it’s hard to get a lot of exposure at the level that we’re at, so I think Mason’s success has opened the door for a lot of people that may be coming behind him at this level,” Garrett said. “I think Mason getting some eyes has really put Berry and put DIII in the spotlight, to say that there are players out there that can play, there are players at every level that can make this thing work. And I think that’s a big step for DIII and for Berry.”
Wilson said that another advantage to Mason’s NFL move was the level he brought to practices. As a cornerback, it was often Wilson’s job to cover Mason in training, something that gave him increased confidence when games came around.
“It made you better, like his tools helped me sharpen my tools,” Wilson said, “When you practice with somebody that good, with that skill, at least you know on Saturdays that you won’t see anybody better than him. So I could go into a game knowing that the receiver that I had to guard, they’re not going to be better than Mason. It helped me over-prepare, basically.”
Even Thomas, who did not get a chance to play alongside Mason, said freshmen could still feel his impact in training.
“It just inspires a lot of the younger guys, even though we didn’t get to know Mason,” Thomas said. “We’re just coming in and we’re like ‘even though we’re a small school, we just had somebody who went into the NFL’ and it just gives us a boost.”
Garrett said that despite this, and despite the numerous NFL scouts that came to see his brother play and train last season, nobody on the team got star-struck either.
“Being able to train with someone that’s in the NFL for me is not that big of a deal,” Garrett said. “He’s still my brother, I still get to go home and eat dinner with him, so I still know who he is as a person. And I think that’s the same with our whole team working out with him, playing with him.”
Now that Mason has made it to the NFL, Garrett also thinks it provides a greater opportunity for future Vikings to follow his lead.
“I think it opens up the door,” Garrett said. “I don’t know, the guys that are here right now, if that’s their dream and that’s what they’re working towards, but I think that there are a lot of guys that it opened the door for. Whether or not they’re here right now, that’s a question for the scouts to answer once we get into a season and once we see some numbers get up.”
Kunczewski said he also believes Berry could have more NFL players come through their ranks in the future, as Georgia is a hotbed for football according to him. He said that with the offer of a great school, beautiful campus and excellent facilities added to that location factor, Berry is fortunate in its ability to attract a lot of top talent.
Only time will tell whether anybody can follow in Mason’s footsteps, but the one thing that is certain for Wilson is that Mason’s name is not going to be forgotten anytime soon at Berry.
“He’ll always get mentioned,” Wilson said. “He’s probably the best player to ever come through and he’ll get mentioned for years down the road. He’ll never stop being mentioned. He’s definitely going to die a legend in the Berry community.”