By Javier Hernandez
In the world of football, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the length of one’s career — in extension, one’s life — is at the mercy of injuries. For most players, football is Plan A, Plan B, all the way through Plan Z. For the athletes who make it to the NFL, it is the intrinsic cerebral attitude and unshakable confidence in their abilities that allow them to become successful. For those who come up short, this same characteristic allows for them to develop tunnel vision that tragically becomes their downfall. Far too often, when a player is injured and forced out of the sport, they scramble to channel their focus into a different avenue and often end up without a backup plan. For Kevin McReynolds, a traumatic injury was what jump-started and catalyzed his post-football career.
“Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” These were the parting words UCLA coach Jim Mora shared with his team before he turned them over to the Navy Seals to undergo a grueling preseason workout. Like many others on that team, McReynolds, who was preparing for the biggest season of his career, made these words his life mantra. He was one step closer to achieving the lifelong goal that he and most football players shared: to make it to the NFL.
Prior to his arrival at UCLA, McReynolds excelled in high school as he became a sought-after recruit as the fifth-ranked defensive tackle in the country. Scouts salivated over his physical attributes, most notably his strength that allows him to bench press over 500 pounds. In addition, he was the heavyweight wrestling state champion in D.C. In his senior year, he received over 40 Division I offers to play football but ultimately chose UCLA. After playing a limited role in his first two years, he was in line for a starting role, and for the time being, he was on the fast track to playing on Sundays.
However, in preparation for the season opener against Nevada, McReynolds suffered a concussion — his second in two years. Throughout his career, including high school, McReynolds estimates he has had five to nine concussions he is aware of. After his latest concussion, McReynolds began to feel the onset of the effects of concussion-related head injuries.
“The concussion triggered emotions where I could no longer control how I felt about things, and it took a while for that to heal. If I was supposed to laugh, I would cry; if I was supposed to cry, I would laugh,” McReynolds said.
Cognizant of the severity of head injuries, McReynolds was faced with the reality that football would probably not be his career path — a reality most athletes tend to put on the back burner. It takes a great deal of self-awareness and maturity for one to acknowledge this reality. His father, Kevin McReynolds Sr., was supportive of him regardless of the career he cvhose but was ultimately proud of the decision his son made to shift his abilities to a different venture.
“Football would have rewarded him if he continued, but the cost of football has so many people fighting to be destroyed,” McReynolds Sr. said. “Given that he’s had a number of concussions, I commend him on the excellent job of making the right choice.”
Whenever McReynolds enters a room, it’s hard to ignore his massive 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame. One would assume he plays football, which he did. However, once you start talking to him, you begin to notice his intrinsic outgoing personality and an eagerness to network with people who would help him succeed.
“He is affiliated with some very influential people. He’s become good friends and made connections with a number of Fortune 500 company CEOs throughout his childhood and college years,” McReynolds Sr. said.
From a young age, McReynolds had a keen aptitude for connecting with people from different walks of life. When he was 13, McReynolds became his hometown’s unofficial party planner, in the process founding the birth of his first “company,” Heisman Entertainment.
“I recall him starting up a business where he threw parties for the very wealthy, influential kids of Montgomery County. And he rented out places like the Marriott and the Hyatt Regency and threw parties,” McReynolds Sr. said. “I told him he should find a job for the summer, and he told me he didn’t want to work for minimum wage. So instead he was out there working for three or four thousand for an event.”
Though event planning was a hobby McReynolds thoroughly enjoyed in his childhood, he always placed it secondary to football. There was no direction to his party-planning company, but due to his time away from football, it allowed him to rediscover and revive this childhood passion. McReynolds founded his own company, the HighLyfe Group, which manages two successful subsidiaries. HighLyfe Xperience is a travel company based in Las Vegas, providing full-service travel accommodations for its customers. HighLyfe Entertainment is an event-planning and talent-booking agency that caters to the college demographic at over 30 universities. The company plans parties and events, booking headliners such as Soulja Boy, Juicy J, Slim Thug, Roscoe Dash, Wes Walker, Travis Porter, Gorilla Zoe and Juelz Santana, among many others.
Life can be weird in the way things work out. Call it fate, karma or kismet, but when McReynolds’ final undergraduate year at UCLA was coming to a close, an ironic opportunity presented itself. As McReynolds was ready to painfully close the football chapter of his life, things went full circle: after injuring himself preparing for a game against Nevada, head coach Brian Polian offered him a spot on the team.
“I didn’t know that I was going [to] play somewhere else my senior year. I thought I was just going into the business world and grad school,” McReynolds said. “When teams go for grad transfers, they can decide to pay for a semester, which is technically all they had to pay for, but coach Polian wanted to keep me on scholarship for the whole year. That allowed me to get my first year [of] grad school knocked out and I’m very grateful.”
Polian took a gamble on a player with only one year of eligibility left, but he felt the relationship was mutually beneficial.
“He wanted to come play and also to start an MBA program at a good school. We needed a defensive tackle who could stop the run, and it was mutually beneficial at the end because both sides are happy the way it turned out,” Polian said.
Though short-lived, McReynolds’ last year of football was crucial in providing closure to his childhood dream. It allowed him to fully transition from the highlights of football to the HighLyfe goal.
This fall, McReynolds is in the second year of his three-year MBA program. He takes three classes Mondays through Wednesday. On Thursday, he travels to wherever his businesses take him and returns back to Reno on a red-eye flight on Sunday.
Looking forward, McReynolds looks to expand the scope of his companies. At the rate his companies are succeeding, these goals are not far-fetched.
“Long term for the company, I want to get into hospitality. I want to own restaurants. I want to start a hotel. I want to do things like that. I want to get into owning nightclubs,” McReynolds said. “That’s a long-term goal. That’s something that I’ve been working towards for a long time.”
Reflecting upon his life thus far, McReynolds doesn’t view his football career as a failure. While his NFL dreams did not come to fruition, he was able to take advantage of the doors that football opened for him and use them as an entrance into the business world.
“I’m not always going to be in the perfect situation, but it’s what you make of that situation and what you make of yourself. More than the memories, it’s learning more about yourself,” McReynolds said. “I walked out with opportunities, and I think the biggest thing I can tell anybody about football is that you have to use football and not let football use you.”
Javier Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.