Louisville football: How Dayna Kinnaird turned dreams into reality

How one Louisville football player went from being a walk-on to a veteran starter.

This week, we sat down with the parents of Louisville football starting defensive end Dayna Kinnaird, Amanda and Gary, to learn more about the rising star’s journey into his newfound leadership role.

After being recruited to Louisville as a walk-on, last season Kinnaird finished with eight tackles (1.5 for a loss) and a sack as he became an integral piece to a short-handed defensive line. His size, leadership skills, and progress in the weight room have made him a popular component in preseason camp and practices.

It was these attributes that allowed Kinnaird to blossom, ultimately earning him an ever-so-coveted scholarship.

“We always knew he had the size, the work ethic, and determination to earn his way onto the field and eventually a scholarship,” Kinnaird said.

An uphill recruiting battle that led to Louisville football

“His recruitment was such a fun process, for us as a family. We visited Purdue, UK, University of Indianapolis, and of course Louisville several times,” Kinnaird said.

A local kid from just across the bridge in Southern Indiana, Dayna had few opportunities to turn heads as a high school player.

”I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Southern Indiana high school sports, but it’s not exactly known for football. Our high schools don’t get the kind of college scouts at every game and recruiting attention the way other areas with strong football traditions do,” she said.

Much like the situation of Louisville freshman receiver Jordan Watkins, Kinnaird had to put the work in at various camps to get noticed.

“Louisville actually started recruiting him when Coach (Bobby) Petrino and Coach (Todd) Grantham saw him at camp before his senior year. He really fit Coach Grantham’s hybrid type of player,” Kinnaird said.

**Editors note: Grantham could really pick ‘em, couldn’t he?**

“It was exciting for him to come out of a drill and see Coach Petrino talking to me on the sidelines. They invited him back for the ‘Light Up The ‘Ville’ Camp later that Summer, which was another good experience for him,” Kinnaird said.

Dayna had a head full of steam, grinding his way into recruiting conversations. But, he was already playing catch-up.

”It’s hard to stand out at a camp, especially at the power five level and not already being on their radar. But that’s why we went to so many camps…we knew he had the size, skill, and work ethic to play at that level. We just had to get some coaches’ attention,” Kinnaird said.

Dayna was seeking to play to his potential at a big school on the big stage without compromising his future.

“We’re local and have been a Cardinal fan family forever, but we wanted him to go to the school that really wanted him and valued his potential…so if that would’ve been the blue school down the road, we would’ve been donned in blue and white,” she said.

Kinnaird could’ve gone to several other schools and experienced the same amount of success, perhaps at a quicker pace as well.

“He had several offers from smaller schools, and even though Louisville’s offer was a preferred walk-on spot, they showed him and us so much love,” Kinnaird said.

Dayna’s hard work was paying off, and soon his top college choice would have his undivided attention.

“Coach Klenakis was his recruiter, and he was always checking in on him. We came to every game visit that year and every time it always just felt like home to him and us. (Not to mention that was Lamar’s standout year, so it was a pretty exciting time to be around the program),” Kinnaird said.

What a time to be a Louisville recruit. But even so, Kinnaird’s experience on that side of the ball was minimal.

“He had only played one year of defense in high school,” Kinnaird said.

“We also looked at the opportunity Louisville would provide for him to really grow and develop at defensive end, compared to what a smaller school could offer,” his parents said.

It seemed as though Kinnaird had himself a plan in the works. Thus, his mind was made up.

“At the end of the day, he grew up dreaming of playing football in Cardinal Stadium in a Louisville jersey, and that’s the place he loved. So, we fully supported his decision and never looked back,” Kinnaird said.

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From Louisville football walk-on to starter

“It’s not easy to make it as a walk-on. He knew that, and we certainly knew it. I’d be lying if, as parents, I said we weren’t somewhat worried about how tough that path might be for him,” Kinnaird said.

The road to a starting position would not be all paved with gold. But remember, we’re talking about a different breed with Dayna Kinnaird. And one thing about Coach Scott Satterfield and staff is this: if you’re willing to put in the work, the sky’s the limit.

“Now, here we are going into his fourth year and he has absolutely blossomed under Coach Satterfield and Coach (Mark) Ivey and the rest of this coaching staff. This is where he was always meant to be and who he was meant to play for. We are so grateful we are a part of the Cardinal family. It really is a special place,” she said.

Amanda reflects on the day Satterfield and staff offered Dayna his scholarship in the team meeting.

”He called us, as he does every day after practice to give us his grade on what he did well and what he needs to do better… He didn’t say much other than asking ’were we home’ (which is only about 20 min from campus), because he was on his way and that he needed to talk to us,” she said.

Kinnaird’s parents had two totally different assumptions about what the impending news entailed.

”I was worried something was wrong. But Dad had a feeling it was to report he’d been put on scholarship,” she said.

The suspense must’ve been just awful. Until finally, Dayna arrived to deliver his announcement.

”Dad was right. There were instant tears of joy and pride, and lots of hugs. We’re a family that loves to joke and laugh so there was plenty of that too. But we told him our pride wasn’t in the scholarship but in the effort and relentless work ethic he’d shown through all the ups and downs,” Kinnaird said.

Though there was much work still to do, the roller coaster had finally crested for Dayna.

“Most people, especially an 18-20 year old, would’ve given up on and walked away. We never doubted the talent or his drive,” she said.

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A stout player with a stout support system in his corner is a beautiful thing.

”It was one of the proudest moments, but not as proud as seeing him run onto the field against Notre Dame in the home opener as the starting DE,” Kinnaird said.

It was this moment when it all came to fruition.

“Only a couple years prior, he painfully had to watch his own team play from the stands sitting next to us,” Kinnaird said.

Heading into this year, Dayna has been tasked to be a teacher and motivator aside from being a standout performer.

“He has really stepped into a leadership role this year. He jumped right into that role in the spring when the first group of new guys came in,” Kinnaird said.

Now, the younger players can learn that hard work pays off through Dayna’s experience.

“He’s a natural learner and teacher. He’s always been that way. A lot of times he learns best by teaching someone else,” she said.

It became apparent speaking with Amanda that Dayna picks up a lot of what his coaches are putting down.

“He has such a great player-coach, mentor-mentee relationship with Coach Ivey. He’s learning not just football skills, but leadership skills from that relationship. I think we will see that payoff on the field this season,” she said.

Dayna could very well continue the good start by his predecessors on the front line.

”He’s really had some good leaders to play behind and observe the last few years. And he knows he has big leader shoes to fill with GG (Robinson) and Amonte (Caban) being gone this year. They’ve got a great group on the defensive line. We’re super excited,” Kinnaird said.

Next: Louisville football game-by-game predictions for 2020

As Louisville readies for a potential ACC-Championship campaign, we all know what the offense is capable of. This time, it’s all eyes on Dayna Kinnaird and that defense in year 2 of the Satterfield Era.

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