Blue Hens’ Kitchen motivated by father’s memory

Defensive lineman Cam Kitchen, who played in over 50 games for the Hens in his career, is hoping to get picked up by an NFL team. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

NEWARK — Not a day goes by that Cam Kitchen doesn’t think about his dad.

Sonny Kitchen was only 43 when he died of a rare heart disease during Delaware’s preseason camp in 2017, just before Cam’s junior year.

The fact that Kitchen suffered a season-ending foot injury early in the season only deepened his despair.

“It was rough, honestly,” said Kitchen. “My junior year was probably one of the hardest years of my life.”

Sonny and Cam had always bonded over football. Sonny was the person who first taught his son how to play the sport.

“It was always our connection,” said Kitchen. “So me continuing to play, it’s like I’m still having that connection with him.”

For Kitchen, keeping his football career going is a way of keeping his father’s memory alive.

Cam Kitchen

That makes this is a big weekend then for the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman.

With the three-day NFL Draft getting underway on Thursday, Kitchen is hoping there’s a team that will give him a chance, most likely as a free agent.

Several years ago, Kitchen might not have thought he had any shot at the NFL. But, after seeing Blue Hen teammates like Bilal Nichols, Nasir Adderley and Troy Reeder all reach the NFL, it began to seem more possible.

“I’ve heard a lot of encouraging things from them just about the whole process,” said Kitchen. “You can’t be so caught up in the process that you forget all the work you’ve done. Just making it to this level is an accomplishment. Being in the conversation (for the NFL) is an accomplishment.

“They’ve all said just relax, enjoy it. Whatever happens is going to happen. I had a good career at Delaware so hopefully somebody can see that and hopefully one team takes a chance on me.”

Kitchen does have a quality football resume. He was a second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association pick this season after posting a career-high 64 tackles.

He’s only the fifth Delaware defensive lineman to play in at least 50 career games.

In January, Kitchen played in the College Gridiron Showcase, where he spent a week practicing in front of NFL scout. Starting out with the non-FBS seniors, Kitchen said he was one of 10 players chosen to move up to go against the major-college players.

“I was able to hold my own,” said Kitchen. “I met with some teams during that whole process. I took a couple tests for teams.”

Unfortunately for Kitchen — and every other college senior trying to attract the attention of the NFL — the coronavirus pandemic hit after that.

That meant all the college Pro Days were canceled. That meant non-FBS players like Kitchen missed a big opportunity to impress some scouts.

Instead, Kitchen and his agent did everything they could to get his highlight film out to be seen by NFL personnel. It’s hardly a great situation for anybody but Kitchen said he’s trying not to dwell on things that are out of his control.

“It’s out of our hands,” said Kitchen. “Personally, I can’t stress over it. I’m just going to keep working hard and stay ready so I don’t have to get ready.

“If I get a call for a workout, if I get a call for a free-agent (opportunity) or I sneak into the draft or who knows? I’ll be ready. All I need is one opportunity.”

Regardless of what happens this week, Kitchen already feels pretty good about what he’s accomplished. Along with his football career, he’s earned a degree in health behavior sciences from UD.

“I’ve got my diploma,” said Kitchen. “I never knew a piece of paper would make me so happy.”

Since he first volunteered with Special Olympics as an eighth-grader, Kitchen has enjoyed working with special-needs kids. He’d like to find ways to continue working with them as an adult.

“When I got to college, I realized I love it — helping people,” he said. “When my father got very sick, he needed a lot of help. If I can just be somebody to brighten somebody’s day or help somebody. … it meant a lot to me then.”

The memory of his father will continue to motivate and inspire Kitchen. That’s why getting the chance to extend his football career would mean the world to him.

Kitchen already feels like he’s overcome some big things in his life.

“I do look back,” he said. “I mean, it’s a great motivator for me. I made it through some of the toughest days that I’ll see in a long time. I’m still here, I’m still doing well.

“I graduated, I’m in position to play at the next level, I had a great career at Delaware. … I pray before every game, I mention my father, I have a tattoo of my father so it’s a constant reminder. Just being able to play football is always getting me closer to him.”