Patrick Kerney has a job with a simple description—get the quarterback.
In his life off the football field, Kerney tries to follow an equally simple principle: For those to whom much has been given, much is expected.
By any standard, Kerney (Col ’99) has been fortunate. He has played defensive end in the NFL since 1999, first for the Atlanta Falcons, now for the Seattle Seahawks.
Kerney has been selected for two Pro Bowls, in 2004 and 2008, and his performance last season, with 14½ sacks, was a major reason the Seahawks won the NFC West Division and moved into the second round of the playoffs.
He has earned millions of dollars and has the potential to earn millions more.
“Considering the manner in which we are compensated as football players, it only seems right that some of that money should go back to the community that creates that compensation,” Kerney says.
In 2000, he established the Thomas L. Kerney Endowment Fund to aid families of police officers who lose their lives in the line of duty in Georgia and South Carolina.
Thomas L. Kerney was Patrick’s older brother. In 1988, Thomas Kerney, then 27 and a police officer in South Carolina, was leading a fire truck to a home in Leesburg, S.C. The car hit a patch of ice, skidded off the road and crashed into a tree. Thomas Kerney was killed.
“We were the two boys with four sisters in between us,” Patrick Kerney says. “That made us a lot tighter. Like any big brother, he was my childhood hero.”
From the time he was drafted by the Falcons, Kerney was thinking about a way to honor his brother’s memory. At the end of his first season in Atlanta, Kerney established the foundation.
So far, donations of $5,000 have been made to each of eight families.
“My brother didn’t have dependents, but so many police officers who lose their lives are leaving behind young children and wives who need support,” Kerney says. “We’ve gotten into starting college funds. If we can help, it’s one less thing these families have to worry about.”
In his first five NFL seasons, Kerney, 31, contributed $1,000 per sack to the fund. Since then, he has donated $2,000 per sack. To date, he’s had 72½ career sacks.
That’s not bad for someone who came to Virginia as a lacrosse player and began his college football career as a walk-on.
“I wasn’t aware that I had the ability to play Division I football,” Kerney says. “But in the preseason, I was running and jumping and lifting right alongside big recruits.
“The defensive ends coach, Bob Petchel, told me I could be a player here [at UVA], and if I worked hard enough, I’d have a shot at the NFL someday. I did all I could to make that a reality.”
Kerney played two lacrosse seasons before concentrating solely on football.
He plans to keep the foundation going long after he finishes playing football.
“The way we’re taken care of in the football world, we have enough to last a lifetime, if you’re smart about it,” he says. “In turn, you should be giving back for a lifetime.”