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Cortez Kennedy's determination made him top player, teammate

Cortez Kennedy earned a scholarship to Northwest Mississippi Community College. But like a lot of college kids, he had to find a way to earn some money to get by. So he did what a lot of us did back then -- he got a gig delivering pizzas.

The only problem was this made his coach Bobby Franklin a little nervous. Especially when you consider Kennedy had a little trouble with his weight during his early (all right, most) of his playing days. Having him work delivering pizzas would be akin to having Danny Ocean be the director of security at the Bellagio. So Franklin sent a note in the mail every day for five weeks addressed to Kennedy which said, "Eat those pizzas and I'm going to cut you from the team."

Kennedy ended up losing 40 pounds.

On the day he reported, he jumped out of his car in a pair of skinny jeans (although I don't think they called them that back then) to impress his coach. Coach Franklin told him, "Cortez, you look great."

It should be no surprise that Kennedy always found a way to overcome. Kennedy, who was reported dead by police in Orlando on Tuesday, knew the value of hard work.

His father once woke him at 5 a.m. to recut the grass because he didn't do it right. Because if he had done it right, he wouldn't have had to do it again his father told him.

Of course, Kennedy mentioned this in his Hall of Fame speech and asked his father seated in the crowd, "If I didn't cut it right in the daytime, why the heck am I going to do it in the night time?"

That checks out. And it also showed the type of personality Kennedy had. A joyful soul, he was beloved by his teammates and just about anybody who came in contact with him. Well, maybe not the quarterbacks. But mostly everybody.

Another time, his mother made him quit football during his sophomore year in high school because he had bad grades. His team made the state championship. His mother sent a postcard from the game that said, "Wish you were here."

And well, you can see where he got his sense of humor. But this was of no laughing matter to Kennedy who decided right there, at that moment, that he was going to turn his life around.

So he destroyed in junior college and later the University of Miami. Although he nearly failed a conditioning test and almost quit  the team, Miami defensive coordinator Dave Wandstedt told him, "We don't quit at the U." He would garner All-America honors in 1989.

The Seahawks made him the third-overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, behind Jeff George and Blair Thomas (sorry to bring that up, Jets fans). He held out until nearly the last moment as a rookie but still played well. He had six sacks in a six-game stretch during his second season. But he really made his mark during his third NFL season.

Kennedy destroyed the NFL in 1992. His coming out party came in Week 3 against the New England Patriots when he harangued then-quarterback Hugh Millen all afternoon and ended up with three sacks. Kennedy would finish the year with 14 sacks and NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.

But that win over the Patriots was one of just two the Seahawks would win in 1992. Kennedy was part of a dubious club of best players to never be part of a playoff win. In fact, the Seahawks would make the playoffs only once during his 11-year career -- a loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1999.

I fear fans didn't recognize him for his greatness. He thrived in an era before NFL Sunday Ticket really became a thing. You'd be lucky to ever see the Seahawks, save a few glimpses on NFL Countdown or SportsCenter. Being in L.A., we were lucky to see him twice a year, but most people didn't have that honor.

Thankfully, his contemporaries recognized him. Kennedy went to eight Pro Bowls, more than any other defensive tackle since he entered the NFL in 1990. More than Warren Sapp, John Randle and Richard Seymour, who all went to seven. He received the NFL's highest honor when he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

The first words Cortez spoke when he strode to the podium in Canton, Ohio, that night was, "This is awesome."

He certainly was.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

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