Anger to understanding: Kenneth Page’s journey back into the Clemson family
|Monday, June 8, 2020, 8:01 AM- -|
Kenneth Page heard about the reunion that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had planned for his former players in early March, and his first thought was that he wasn’t worthy of celebrating the Tigers’ success on and off the field.
As it turns out, Page not only deserved to be there, he’s a shining example of how maturity and a self-driven desire to move past disappointments and setbacks can improve your life.
Page grew up in Columbia and attended AC Flora High School. He attended Clemson, redshirting his freshman season, and played just five snaps over two games in 2009. Page was dismissed from the Clemson program in November, something that angered him.
“Man, I was angry. I was really angry. I felt like I was cheated,” Page told TigerNet recently. “I felt like everything was against me. And you know, that's the easy mindset to have when you refuse to take accountability for your own actions. I was looking at it through a comparative lens. What I mean by that is even though there's a standard that they wanted us to live up to, I compared myself to the way other people were living their lives.
“So, when Swinney decided to kick me off the team, granted I did something that you should probably kick someone off the team for, but I compared myself to the other people that were still on the team. I did this. Yeah, yeah, they found the weed. And people even make jokes about it because it was such a small amount that they found. And I'm like, ‘I didn't even get in trouble with the police and I'm getting kicked off the team when you got this offense on the team and you got that offense on the team?’ That's why I felt cheated.”
A conversation with then-chaplain Tony Eubanks started Page on the road to recovery.
“When I got kicked off the team, a very powerful thing was said to me right after I got the news. I was bawling crying,” Page said. “And the team chaplain, Tony Eubanks, looked at me and he said, ‘Well, what are you going to do next?’ And I mean, that's the reality of it, if things don't go your way, it's what you're going to do next. So to answer your question, I had to build myself up into that, constantly growing and learning through life.”
Page enrolled at Coastal Carolina and continued his personal growth. Along the way, he started to look at his time at Clemson in a different way.
“Man, that ended up being a process. That ended up being a process,” Page said. “A large piece of that change came with just my faith walk, my faith journey. Getting not only plugged into the church - I didn't get plugged into the church until after I started focusing on God. But just reading the Bible, studying it, and little bit by little ... because I never want to give the impression that I'm like this saint that does nothing wrong ... but little bit by little bit in your faith walk and your journey things start to change. You start to have a different perspective and outlook.
“So, one of the biggest things that started to change my mind to that was when I started to learn about the order that God runs His kingdom, like how God is a God of order. He does everything with intentionality and purpose. So when I started to learn more about order and responsibility, and leadership, and then I look back on that situation that I had at Clemson - well, if Dabo Swinney is trying to build a program like no other, there has to be order, and if you have somebody within that organization - and this doesn't just go professionally, this goes for anywhere - if you have somebody within an organization that's not getting their order, how is anything going to get accomplished?”
Time led to even more introspection.
“How on Earth could Dabo Swinney be trying to build this program and do it the right way, but then to send a message that it's okay to have people within the program who don't go to class, you don't follow the rules, and who get in trouble multiple times? Because that wasn't my first run in with marijuana up at Clemson,” Page said. “So, it's something you grow into. And then I grew into realizing that I was wrong. But it just took some more time and understanding to understand why he had to make that decision.”
Page played just one year at Coastal before deciding to concentrate on his studies and graduation. There wasn’t a lot of communication with the Clemson program, but when Swinney’s father passed away in August of 2015, he reached out to his former head coach.
“It was actually around the time when his father passed away and I got the news of it. Now let me just say, even though I had bad blood with the coaching staff, I was still somewhat connected to Clemson,” Page said. “When I was there, I ended up getting a mentor named Brett Cash. Brett has been a great mentor and a friend, and he loves Clemson and whatnot, so I kind of still had updates around Clemson. About that time when I found out that his father had passed away, I felt a lot of compassion. I mean, losing a parent, that's tough for anybody. I don't care what life you live, what you've done in life, where you are in life, losing a parent is something tough and by the grace of God, I'm grateful that I still have mine.
“But when that happened, I sent Coach Swinney a message. I sent him my condolences and that kind of started everything off. We were able to have a candid conversation with him and also Brad Scott, who was my offensive line coach when I was there. A couple of years ago, they actually had me up there for career day where I got a chance to speak with the football team about career development stuff, how to make their life better. And it's just been kind of a building relationship since then.”
Once the door was opened, Page began to mature even more.
“I've always appreciated the fact that Coach Swinney has always had open arms to me coming back to Clemson and showing my face around there, and being plugged in,” he said. “But there was still some personal growth and some maturity that I had to go through to eradicate that resentment that I had. So, it's beautiful and it's nice to see situations kind of come full circle.”
As the new year rolled around, Page received an invitation to the ten-year Dabo Swinney reunion. However, the decision to attend wasn’t an easy one for Page.
“Honestly, no. No, it really wasn't. There was a lot of hesitation at first because even though prior to that, I had been up at Clemson before and spoken with them, and I've even been to some practices, some meetings, but the framework for that event was like a 10-year reunion of Dabo Swinney's career at Clemson,” Page said. “I'm like, ‘Yo, I don't have a place in this story.’ Like I represent the type of kids that you have to get out of the program if you want to succeed. So, it's like I didn't feel like I matched up with it. Initially there was a lot of hesitation. It wasn't like I saw it and I said, ‘My gosh, I can't wait to get up there.’ It was kind of like, ‘I don't know. I mean, I went to Clemson, but what am I really worthy of being here?’ So there was definitely some hesitation.”
Page eventually made the decision to attend but didn’t immediately feel back at home.
“Not super immediately. Not super immediately,” Page said. “I mean, you get there and you see guys that I played with, guys that's been there after me, guys that's in the NFL doing amazing things, guys not in the NFL just doing amazing things with their career and lives. And then you look at their contribution to Clemson ... yeah. At first it was a bit much. But then I had to take a step back - the problem was even in that moment; I was still kind of looking at myself through the eyes of myself 10 years ago.
“And I've grown a lot since then, I've matured a lot since then, a lot of things have changed with me since then. So, in that moment I had to recognize the growth that I had within myself and stop looking at myself through ... just stop looking at myself through a flawed view. People make mistakes in life and things change, and 10 years later there is no reason to walk around with any shame or guilt about past misfortunes.”
The former players were allowed to watch what would be one of the final practices of the spring. As Page watched the practice from the sidelines, he noticed 5-star offensive line recruit, Nolan Rucci. The two struck up a conversation that left an impression on Rucci.
“It was kind of interesting there was a player named Kenneth Page who had been kicked off the team,” Rucci said. “It was unique to talk to someone who had been kicked off the team and then came back. He was saying that he realized that might have been the best thing that could have happened to him. It was a big gut check. He said maybe he hated Clemson for a while after he was kicked off the team, but as he grew up and matured he realized how important that was for him and his life has changed because of it.”
Page said he didn’t know who he was talking to.
“I didn't quite know who he was to be honest. I could tell he was a recruit because he had badges and stuff on, and he looked pretty young,” Page said. “But he was standing there on the sideline and he was with his mother and father. I'm kind of gregarious at times and don't mind sparking up conversations with strangers. So I'm just asking him questions, getting to know him. And he's telling me ... I didn't know he was like the number two lineman in the nation.
“He's telling me about himself and whatnot, and then he asked me about my career at Clemson. And then I tell him the story and I pointed out to him ... because I was telling him one of the big things that I learned doing the recruiting process is every school has facilities. Every school is going to have all the comparables, facilities, academics, weight rooms, tutoring, counselors clothing, food. It looks the same. But what separates a school is really the culture of it and the people.”
Page wound up praising Swinney.
“I was trying to intimate to the Rucci family, to Nolan, what a phenomenal man I thought that Dabo Swinney was,” he said. “And thought that by letting him know that everybody else here says Dabo is great because they won a lot of championships with him, they have a lot of success, a lot of rings. But I'm standing here as somebody who at one point in time felt negatively impacted by his decision to be able to come back and tell you, 'No, he even made that decision with the best interest of heart.' And hearing Dabo Swinney, I know he talks about the reasons why he did it, he doesn't make those decisions light of heart.
“We just got to talking and I felt it important for the Rucci family to know where I was coming from. Because I went through the recruiting thing, and I was heavily recruited in my day, so I know how that stuff goes. I know what they try and bait you with, or they try to hype you up with. And it's kind of like a bait and switch in recruiting sometimes. They paint this picture just to get you in, then you get in there and it's like, "I wasn't ready for this. But Clemson's not like that. The people, the culture, the leadership. The leadership, makes it, my gosh, phenomenal.”
Page is now a credit officer at TD Bank and coaches the offensive line at Southside Christian High School. He also volunteers with his church and he teaches. He’s even written an inspirational Bible study guide, but he admits he’s still a work in progress.
“I am still trying to figure out life,” he said. “In my heart, I am still trying to figure out what to do with my life. But I’ll get there.”
We are all betting you will, Kenneth Page. We all bet you will.