Berry alumnus credits NFL success to hard work, team culture

Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor

The only Vikings football alumnus to make it in the pro leagues will again be preparing to play on the gridiron this fall.

Last week, the National Football League’s (NFL) Tennessee Titans signed wide receiver Mason Kinsey (21C) onto their practice squad after cutting him from their active roster, making this the second consecutive year the 24-year-old will train on the team’s practice squad.

The Titans originally signed Kinsey as an undrafted free agent during his rookie year in 2020, following his senior season at Berry in the fall of 2019.

Kinsey, who wears jersey no. 12, is the first and only Berry Viking in the football program’s 10-year history to appear in an NFL game and to sign on to a practice squad.

Practice squad members must work hard to prepare to play every Sunday in case a player on the 53-man roster is unable to compete, Kinsey said, but he expressed excitement to have the continued opportunity.

“I’m thankful that I get to live my dream job every day, and that’s playing football,” Kinsey said. “I get to be in the facility and be with the team just continue to try and get better, and just do anything that I can to help the team win and be ready whenever my name is called.”

The Titans elevated Kinsey to the roster for one game against the Kansas City Chiefs last October, where he played several snaps as a punt returner and wide receiver in his first and only regular season appearance so far. Kinsey saw his first play time on an NFL field in a pre-season game against the Atlanta Falcons last August.

“It was awesome to be in there during the regular season,” Kinsey said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid, something that you always want to grow up to do, so it was really cool experience.”

The dedication necessary to play on the practice squad is nothing new to Kinsey. The wide receiver quoted Proverbs 14:23, “All hard work leads to profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty,” as a Bible verse he tries to live by.

“What I can control is how hard I work, so I just try and go in every day with an attack mindset and be ready to put my best foot forward and work as hard as I can, and [I know], I’ll see the profit in some way,” Kinsey said.

Berry’s Head Football Coach, Tony Kunczewski, said it is hard to judge intangible qualities in recruits, but Kinsey’s exceptional combination of skill and strong work ethic set him apart during his college career.

“I don’t think we fully understood how good he could be, because it’s tough to measure heart and desire and character and, to a certain extent, work ethic in the recruiting process,” Kunczewski said. “He has all those intangibles, plus obviously elite talent. When you have both, that’s a pretty good combination.”

Kinsey played for all four years of his college career, setting un-broken school and conference records for career receiving yardage (3,343) and touchdowns (50), according to Kunczewski.

Kinsey’s hard work left a legacy greater than stats, however.

Derrell Mims (19C), Campus Outreach campus director for Berry and unofficial chaplain for the football team, started playing football alongside Kinsey as a sophomore. Mims said that Kinsey pushed him to be a better athlete on his own time, both on and off the field.

“Mason wasn’t just a guy who worked hard when the lights were on,” Mims said. “He was the first one to be like, ‘let’s watch film together, let’s critique each other, let’s help each other get better.’ We always saw each other as more than just football players, but how can I care for this guy off the field.”

While some Berry students considered Mason’s professional dreams to be against impossible odds, Mims said he never doubted Kinsey’s work ethic would take him to the NFL.

“Mason’s a guy who has worked for everything he had,” Mims said. “He had to beat all of the odds to work just to make it to the NFL from [NCAA] Division III. Mason’s a guy who put the work in and is definitely reaping the benefits of that.”

Kinsey left school a semester early to train for the NFL draft, returned to Berry in the spring of 2021 to graduate with his degree in Communication. Mims said that Kinsey sets an example for current Berry football players that if you put in the work necessary, it is possible to play professionally.

“Some of these guys on the team do have dreams of going to the NFL,” Mims said, “so, those guys getting to see somebody who came through this program, stayed all four years, endured, that shows them that is really is just hard work, it’s not rocket science, just go out there and put the work in, and you will get success from it.”

Kinsey said that he matured under the leadership of Kunczewski, who team members call Coach K, because he treats Berry’s football players like members of a professional football team and invests in them as people, not just athletes.

“He helped mold me into not only a good football player, but a better man more than anything, and I think that’s definitely helped me become a better version of myself,” Kinsey said. “Obviously winning football games is a big thing, but I think that [Coach K] worries more about the impact that he has on the people he brings in.”

To polish himself as a receiver before the 2023 roster cuts, Kinsey said he plans to focus on little details such as catching mechanics, route running and blocking. Kinsey said he believes that the more days he can put into practice, the better he will be.

Kinsey’s success brings national attention to Berry College and the football program, according to Kunczewski. However, the coach said he is most proud that his former player has been noticed for his hard work in the pro leagues.“I think that just says a lot about his own personal character,” Kunczewski said. “We’re really proud of his success and we believe he’s going to get another opportunity on the 53-man roster this year.”

Leave a Reply