Benefitting from time, Demons’ Price regains his form

There are not many players in the Northwestern State football locker room who have experienced more in their Demon careers than sixth-year receiver Kendrick Price.

From his redshirt season in 2016 to a breakout second half of the 2019 campaign and a knee injury in spring practice of 2020, Price has collected moments – both positive and negative – and built those into a springboard for an early-season return to form.

“I never look back on things with regret,” said Price, a Lindale, Texas, product. “I never would say I wish it hadn’t happened, because it made me who I am today.”

As the Demons (0-2) prepare for their home opener against UT Martin (1-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday, those trials and tribulations have pushed Price back toward the levels of production he enjoyed during the tail end of his junior season in 2019 when he collected 21 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns, emerging as a big-play threat by posting four grabs for 114 yards and a 67-yard touchdown in a Nov. 16 win at Sam Houston.

The strong finish led former Demon All-American receivers Jazz Ferguson and Quan Shorts to campaign for Price to follow in their shoes and wear the coveted No. 1 jersey. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Price was poised to build on that breakout season in 2020.

Before the Demons and the rest of the world shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, Price was dealt a health setback of his own, suffering a torn ACL that could have ended his Demon career.

“If we had played in the fall, he wouldn’t have been able to play,” fourth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “For him to have the opportunity to come back and play in the spring, a lot of work goes into it. You see the final product on Saturday nights, but you don’t see the work that’s put in to get to that point. That’s what you’re most proud of as a coach.”

Given the benefit of a few more months to rehab as the Football Championship Subdivision championship season was moved to spring 2021, Price was able to return to the field. In six games this past spring, Price caught six passes for 66 yards and one touchdown.

It took him less than two games of the fall 2021 seasons to surpass those numbers and to continue his climb toward the Northwestern State record books. With touchdown catches in each of the Demons’ first two games, Price now has tallied eight scoring receptions in his career, leaving him two shy of tying Randy Liles for ninth on NSU’s career list.

Each of his two scoring catches also helped prove Price’s health. His 65-yarder against North Texas was highlighted by a broken tackle and a sprint away from the Mean Green defense. The 18-yarder that put the Demons ahead of Alcorn this past Saturday came along the sideline and with one shoe on as Price ran out of his footwear earlier in the route.

“You have those moments where you can tell you can do things you couldn’t before the injury,” Price said. “It’s like I said. It was a day-by-day thing. I kept grinding and getting stronger. I stayed with it, and then I look up, and I’m making those plays again. It feels normal again. It wasn’t something I stressed myself out about – trying to get back to where I was. I put one foot in front of the other, and I ended up at the point where I can do things like score for my team and provide a spark. It’s a great feeling.”

While Price’s performance on the first two Saturdays have caught the eye of casual fans, it was the behind-the-scenes work that further endeared himself to his teammates and coaches.

“When guys have been through adversity, other players notice that,” Laird said. “They notice the hard work – whether it’s a Keenan Leachman, who was a walk-on and is now a starter or someone like Kendrick who has worked his way back from injury to get healthy. They see that and understand what they’ve gone through. That puts them in a leadership position based on the hard work they put in to get through those situations.”

The knee injury forced Price to rehab physically, but he credited his mindset for smoothing that path while helping him reflect on what he learned throughout his Demon career.

“The growth I’ve made as a player is synonymous with the growth I’ve made as a person,” Price said. “I feel you gain maturity from going through tough things. Learning the hard way I feel is the best way to learn. People can teach you all they want, but if you’re not ready to receive it, it’s not going to stick. In life, stuff has to harden and sharpen you to where you learn from it. There’s so much I’ve been through since the fall of 2016 that it’s crazy to think about.

“It’s been a blessing.”

Photo:  Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services

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