The University of Detroit Mercy has a long history of family tradition, especially in athletics. Men’s lacrosse senior Zach Kennedy ’22 is the latest in his family to graduate with an athletic pedigree.
Kennedy is a graduate senior on the men’s lacrosse team, a walk-on from nearby Detroit Jesuit High School and the son of a former Titan men’s basketball player and the grandson of a former Titan two-sport standout in basketball and football.
“It has all been worth it,” said Zach. “I think it was just two weeks into my freshman year and I was in the fitness center and I was looking out through the huge window and I saw some of the guys shooting around and just thought to myself, this is awesome. Winning is great and playing time is great, but at the end of the day, just being on this team, the bus rides, the team bonding, that is something that I will always cherish and remember and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
“To think that really five generations have come through the University is great,” said Zach’s father Dan. “You just don’t see that happen a lot. The academics are second to none and he visited other schools and he decided to be a Titan.”
The Kennedy tradition started in the 1940s when a man nicknamed “Tiny” came back from World War II and enrolled at the University. Tiny’s real name was Angus Patrick Kennedy and he stood 6’7, 240-lb, a two-sport standout for the Titans playing basketball and football.
Tiny attended St. Gregory High School and when he graduated, joined the Navy and was a gunner aboard Liberty ships. He was stationed in Hawaii, South America, Cuba and Panama.
When he joined the team, he was 22-years old, and was the biggest player on the cagers, where he was named the Most Improved Player following the 1947-48 season and was the backup center to Titan Hall-of-Famer John Kirwan the following year. He played under coaches John Shada and the first two seasons of legendary coach Bob Calihan.
“That is something that I don’t think most people know is that those teams after the war, they had men on their teams, not kids,” said Dan. “My dad was 22 or 23 when he came to the University and he wasn’t a standout player, he was a worker and he was able to play two sports and was one of the biggest people on the team.”
On the football field, he was a starting lineman in 1948 and was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference champion team in 1948. An article in the Varsity News called him one of head coach Chuck Baer’s most dependable linemen in 1948 and a workhorse playing 243 total minutes in nine games.
The Kennedy lineage also includes Zach’s grandmother, who graduated from the University with a teaching degree, his dad, Dan, who was a four-year letterwinner on the hardwood from 1985-89, and his aunt, Ginny, who played basketball at Mercy College and was the team’s MVP in 1973 and 1974.
Dan played in 95 career games for the Titans under coaches Don Sicko, John Mulroy and Ricky Byrdsong. In his first few years, he played alongside Titan great Archie Tullos and, as a senior, he averaged 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.
One might assume that a father would push his son to play the sport he loved and excelled in, but not for the Kennedys.
“I played baseball when I was younger, but I was a little bored just being in the outfield and when I was in the sixth grade, I asked my dad if I could try out for lacrosse because all my friends were and it was new and upcoming in my area and gave it my shot,” said Zach. “I played basketball and football in high school. My high school basketball team was really good, led by Cassius Winston and guys who went on to play college basketball or football, and I just didn’t have the same skill set as my dad, so I played junior varsity as a freshman and that was it. That allowed me to focus on football and lacrosse.”
“For me, I just love him being involved. We encouraged and we let him play everything growing up. He had swimming lessons, golf lessons, baseball, basketball, football, so it was never a push from me for him to play basketball,” added Dan.
Zach had a fine prep career at Jesuit and was First Team All-Catholic and All-Academic in football and lacrosse as a junior and senior. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and was the Valedictorian of the Class of 2017. When he was looking at colleges, his dad let him go on different college tours, but just like the University was able to attract his family, it did the same with him.
“Academics is huge in my family. Coming out of high school, I was looking for a school that had strong academics and the five-year MBA program and small teacher-to-student ratio is great,” added Zach. “I also love the smaller community, and it was close to home so I had my own interests in Detroit Mercy outside of the family connection. My dad didn’t push me to come here, he wanted me to make my own decision. All my life I have been coming on campus for soccer, basketball and lacrosse games. He even said, he didn’t want me to come here to appease him, it was my choice and it tuned out to be the best one that I could have made.”
His dad also played a big role in Zach being a student-athlete. Originally, college athletics was not in the plan. He wasn’t recruited by the Titans and didn’t know if he could play at this level, but once again, dad was there to encourage him to giving it his all.
“Compared to other parents, my dad was very laid back with sports and he let me choose my own path,” said Zach. “He was not a helicopter parent and he wasn’t big on playing travel so I never played travel lacrosse or basketball. Actually, he was instrumental in really pushing me to play lacrosse here. I didn’t have a lot of offers to play collegiate lacrosse and he encouraged me to email coach [Chris] Kolon to see if I could try out and potentially walk on. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never have had the courage to do that so it was because of my dad just being there and giving me the confidence to even play college sports, and now five years later, it was a great decision and I have a lot of memories playing with a bunch of great guys.”
“I just told him, ‘hey contact the coach and see if you can try out and walk on,'” said Dan. “That wasn’t on his mind at all and I said, ‘what’s the worst he can say?’ He got the courage to email the coach and he responded and said come on over and try out and after a few days, he said, welcome to the team.”
Dan and his wife walked out with their son on Senior Day. For dad, he has had a chance to see his son play a varsity sport, very different than the one he played and although he might not know everything about lacrosse, there are certain things he could always help coach him with.
“I coached him in basketball and football when he was growing up. When he stopped playing baseball in the sixth grade and started playing lacrosse, I have to be honest, I didn’t know anything about the sport,” said Dan. “I still don’t know a lot, but I will say, there are a lot of the same principles in the sport with basketball and football. In your man-to-man defense, keep people in front of you, in a zone, guarding your area and looking for the help side defense, getting laterally. So I may not know the sport, but I can see the same principles and help out from there as much I can, while he teaches me about plays and where something might have broken down that I didn’t see.”
From football, to basketball and now lacrosse, the Kennedy family has always found a way to be Titans and excel outside of sports as Zach is set to graduate with an accounting degree and continue to finish his CPA as he will start his professional career as a consultant at Ernst & Young.
“What I always say is that my mom and dad went to Detroit, Aunt Ginny went to Mercy and I went to U-D and now Zach is at Detroit Mercy, and this is the 1940s, 50s, 70s and 2000s, but at the end of the day, we are all Titans!” said Dan.