In one world, Sam Kendricks is a national champion and a recently turned professional athlete. In another world, he is an Army officer in training.
He has traveled between the worlds seamlessly at Ole Miss, but it’s been a long road to arrive where he is today.
His father, Scott Kendricks, has played an integral role in that journey.
Scott has coached Sam since 7th grade. In addition, Scott’s 10 years in the United States Marines, rising to the rank of captain, showed Sam the benefits of a possible career in the military.
“I grew up, just like a million other military stories, with an idea that it was something possible,” Sam said. “It was an option. They do good things for people in the military, and it’s for a good cause. When I was in high school, I did JROTC and then I really started to formulate in my mind that in conjunction with my athletic aspirations that ROTC might be a great thing.
“The army has a very physical aspect to it. You have to be fit for the job. It’s the same thing in athletics, so I thought it was a very easy transition. They were very supportive at the army unit and the cadet command going forward. As long as I could do these things in conjunction, it was great, and I could serve my country after I graduated as a second lieutenant in the army in whatever capacity I decided to do, or whatever the army needed me to do.”
Kendricks broke on to the scene as a freshman, earning second team All-America honors, becoming the first Ole Miss All-American pole vaulter since 1985, and tying for 10th at the NCAA Championships.
Behind the scenes, however, it was far from an easy transition, as he balanced the rigors of school, track and field and Army Reserve.
“It is a lot, but not everyone considers it a lot,” Kendricks said. “When I was a freshman, it was difficult. I had to learn how to balance all things when my life was very structured in high school.
“When I came to Ole Miss, things changed. I had to be adaptable as a person to deal with different types of leadership, different people pulling on your time and your commitment as a student-athlete. If your grades fall through, if you’re not committed in all three aspects, they all won’t hold themselves up.”
Training for his respective pursuits may appear different, but Kendricks saw any training as beneficial for both as he balanced the two. He sometimes missed one commitment for the other, so it was that much more difficult for him, but he embraced the challenge.
“It’s all about your perspective,” Kendricks said. “I told myself that any training is good training for pole vault. It makes you tougher, makes you a better athlete and makes your more resilient.
“The army has a very specific way. They test their cadets and soldiers with a physical fitness test. It’s a test of capability and strength. It’s a simple test, but it’s not easy, and you have to train for it, but I also have to train to be an elite athlete. Melding those together was an art, so I could be ready for any given thing at any given time.”
On the track, his junior year saw the most success, as he won every meet both indoors and outdoors except the NCAA Indoor Championship (runner-up), including the SEC indoor and outdoor titles, NCAA outdoor title and a USA title. Immediately after winning the USA title June 29, he spent the month of July at Army ROTC training in Kentucky.
There are a lot of ways to become an officer, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Kendricks said, but college and the training are essential aspects as he looked to accept a commission and begin his military career.
“I learned the Army is very goal-oriented,” said Kendricks of the ROTC training. “The Army told us, `We need you to learn this, to be this tough, to be this adaptable, to be able to lead your peers and lead soldiers beneath you in such a way to be a respectable leader.’
“A lot of it puts emphasis on you having influence on other individuals, perhaps on their life one day, so it gives you a sense of urgency to be the best person you can be going into the army as an officer.”
After returning to Ole Miss this fall, Kendricks elected to forego his senior year of eligibility with the Ole Miss track and field team to pursue professional and athletic opportunities.
On the track, he’s training toward the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He will remain in school and graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, and he is also on track to commission.
“This is a hard decision and the timing of it has been difficult for me,” Kendricks said. “I believe this is the best decision for my family, and I’ve gotten their full support in many ways. I love being an Ole Miss Rebel.”
Always the introspective person, Kendricks looks to the past and present for what Army ROTC and Ole Miss track & field have done for him, but he also looks to the future, one full of options and opportunities.
“What I have done in the past gives me confidence for the future,” Kendricks said. “It may have been hard to arrive at those successes or failures, but they also lead to greater things in the future, whatever those may be, and you have to take advantage of them.”