Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's about-face this week to allow Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie cornerback Cameron Kinley to attend training camp surprised everyone, including the former Navy team captain.
Kinley told ESPN that Secretary Austin personally called him after the Department of Defense altered its decision.
"I was just in shock that I was on the phone with the Secretary of Defense," Kinley said. "But he informed me that he had made the decision to reverse the ruling, and he was happy he made this decision. He said this was the correct decision and that he's just looking forward to me taking advantage of it."
An undrafted free agent after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Kinsley signed with the Bucs in May and participated in rookie minicamp. In June, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker denied Kinley's request to delay his commission.
"I was heartbroken. I was speechless," Kinley told ESPN. "I really didn't know what to think. And then I just realized this was another obstacle on the journey. I knew that this situation was going to make me a stronger person."
The surprising initial decision by the Pentagon led to an outpouring of support from the NFLPA to lawmakers, who believed Kinley should be allowed the opportunity to pursue an NFL job before fulfilling his service pledge. This week's news allows Kinley the chance to chase that dream.
As an undrafted free agent on a Super Bowl-winning squad returning most of its core, Kinley faces an uphill battle to make the Bucs roster. But, the 22-year-old isn't running from that challenge.
"It's kind of the mindset that I've had since I began playing the game of football," Kinley said. "You know, don't let anybody outwork you, and give 110 percent. So I'm excited about it. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder."
During training camp later this month, Kinley will get that shot to prove he belongs.