“I came in with Coach (Paul) Calley,” said Zak Kemp of his sophomore season at Bryant High School. “I was a tight end. I weighed probably 180 pounds. I was about 6’2”.”
But when Buck James and his splendid staff succeeded Calley and his extraordinary group of coaches, his future as a tight end was beyond limited.
“I told him, we’re not going to have any tight ends,” James said. “That wasn’t our plan. I asked him to buy into tackle, to get bigger and stronger.”
Kemp accepted the challenge, worked hard and jumped into the starting lineup as a junior and, as a senior, as the “blind side” left tackle.
“You know, he played this year at about 260 pounds,” James said of Kemp’s fall campaign with the 10-2 Hornets.
“Now, I’m sitting at 6’6”, 270,” Kemp related. “My sophomore year, I tore my labrum. My junior year, I played through it and had surgery after that. I played my senior season and it was all good. With the Buck James program, I’ve gotten stupid-strong. It’s crazy. I lift every day.”
Not only did Kemp become one of the cornerstones of Bryant’s record-setting offense but he started getting attention from colleges. And, on National Signing Day on Wednesday, he inked a letter of intent to continue his education and his football career at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.
I think he’s in the same mode as (former Hornet) Cole Fritchen, a guy that was a late bloomer in high school,” James said. “Cole’s gone up (to ATU) and was a starter as a true freshman, probably one of the best linemen in the state, probably has a chance to play in the NFL.
“I think Zak is the same kind of guy,” he asserted. “He’s going to be a big man. I think he’s a guy that can carry 300 pounds and still look like he wears a 34-inch pant. He’s got to get stronger. He’s got to keep working in the weight room, but he has great tenacity. He’s got a little nasty in him like Luke (Curtis) does. He’s another guy that bought into a vision that old coach was trying to tell him to buy into.”
Kemp chose Tech over Ouachita Baptist and Southern Arkansas University.
“My grandma lives in Russellville,” he noted. “I really love the school and the team. It’s like a family there. And I know quite a few Bryant players that went there.”
Asked what the coaches there had in mind for him, Kemp said, “Lift, get strong before you come up.
“They’re out a guard right now and next year they’ll be out a tackle so I have a chance to play guard this year and tackle next year,” he added.
“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” James said. “It probably wasn’t in his make-up when we got here to be an offensive lineman but, I think, he handled the role well and it’s paid off in a good scholarship opportunity.”
Who knows? It could be Kemp at guard, Fritchen at tackle and Luke Curtis (another Bryant signee for ATU) at tight end, making up one side of the Wonder Boys’ offensive line.