Devon Kennard was in town over Mother’s Day weekend.

While it was nice he had a chance to be with his mom on her special day, it was the time the Southern California senior spent with his other family the following week that was most telling.

The Desert Vista product was taking in the Thunder’s final week of spring football as he was smiling, joking around, and having a blast.

It’s been awhile since Kennard has felt this good when it comes to football.

“I have one more go at it and I’m finally in a position that is made for me,” Kennard said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Whenever he returns to Desert Vista it serves as inspiration for the current players.

“He is an example of what anyone from Desert Vista can accomplish,” Thunder running back Cullen Van Gosen said. “He has been through a lot, but he never stops working.”

Kennard came out of Desert Vista in 2008 one of the top recruits in the nation despite tearing his anterior cruciate ligament three games into his senior season based on the 24 sacks he complied as a junior.

There have been some bright spots during his time at USC, but up to this point his career has mostly been defined by position changes and rehab.

“It hasn’t gone as expected, but it’s not over yet,” said Kennard, who redshirted last season after tearing a chest muscle just before the start of the season. “I have one more year to go and I’m feeling good about it.”

The fifth-year senior was switched from defensive end to outside linebacker (four starts, 34 tackles) as a freshman before being moved to middle linebacker (eight starts, 72 tackles) as a sophomore. His junior year he was back at defensive end (five starts, 29 tackles) and was expected to be the starter last season before the last of four surgeries (knee, hip, thumb, chest) put him on the sideline.

In 2013 the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Kennard, 21, is being asked to play a combination of all the positions he has played as a hybrid end-linebacker spot that is vital in the scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator in the 2008 Super Bowl season.

“This is most comfortable and natural position for me,” Kennard said. “It takes advantage of everything I can do.”

Kennard will be on the outside where he will get one-on-one attention to start the year as Jordan Breslin (13 sacks) will be the focus of the opposition. It will give him the chance to make the big-impact plays everyone thought he’d produce when he left for Los Angeles.

The expectations on Kennard after that huge 24-sack junior season were probably unrealistic, but he feels he’s in position to finally have that breakout year with the Trojans.

“(The expectations) never bothered me and I never tried living up to it,” he said. “I know what kind of player I am and I’ve showed it at times, but I’ve never put it together for a whole season.

“We are preparing for a great year. No one was happy with what we did (7-6 overall, 5-4 conference). It was hard to watch from the sidelines, but now I am ready to help get us back to the top.”

Kennard watched his Arizona buddies Dion Jordan (third overall to Miami), Marcus Wheaton (third round/Pittsburgh) and Marc Anthony (seventh round/Baltimore) get drafted in April knowing if it weren’t for his latest injury, his name might have been called as well.

“Arizona football has come a long way,” he said. “I’m proud of those guys. I hope I can keep the (pipeline to the NFL) going.”

Whatever happens this final year, Kennard will leave USC with two degrees as he received his bachelor’s degree in communications at USC in the spring of 2012 and has begun work on a master’s degree in communications management.

“You can look at situations as problems or opportunities,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I got better physically and mentally all last year, so I’m healthier than if I played last season.
“I also got to finish school and will walk out of USC with two degrees and, hopefully, the opportunity to play at the next level. That’s not a bad situation.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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