The door was open for John Kinder to transfer from Syracuse to Stony Brook a year ago, but as disappointed as the former Lawrence High star was with his lack of playing time, it never was just about football for him.
"I always knew I wanted to graduate from Syracuse and get my degree and finish out strong," Kinder said Wednesday. "I've never been a quitter. I didn't want to let my lack of playing time determine my experience and my education there."
That's the kind of mature leader who will take over as the Seawolves' starting quarterback for their season opener against Bryant University Thursday night at 7 at LaValle Stadium. Kinder got his bachelor's degree in communication and rhetorical studies from Syracuse, and he expects to earn a master's degree in higher education administration from SBU next spring.
In the meantime, he has a new set of teammates to lead in his final season of eligibility after appearing in only four games for the Orange. Despite the rust and having only the past summer to learn Stony Brook's offense, Kinder is confident he's ready.
"I very feel comfortable having guys look up to me and needing me to get the job done," Kinder said. "I've always prided myself in my leadership skills, and I think I communicate pretty effectively. I feel like it's perfect timing. I'm right where I need to be now."
Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said Kinder's leadership qualities stood out as soon as he stepped on campus. But it took something more to beat out Conor Bednarski and Carlos Hernandez, who each have a redshirt year of experience in the offense under their belts.
"I see on-the-field athleticism we haven't had at the quarterback position, ability to escape, ability to extend plays with his feet," Priore said of Kinder. "The tough part was learning what we're doing in a short period of time. But when he made mistakes, it never bothered him."
Spending his first three seasons at Syracuse as an understudy to quarterback Ryan Nassib, who now is backing up Eli Manning on the Giants, helped prepare Kinder. "I had a great relationship with Ryan," Kinder said. "At times, he got frustrated and would get on me about how 'Quarterbacks can't be clowns, can't be the goofballs.' I'm a fun-loving guy, but he'd remind me that quarterbacks have to set themselves apart from everyone else. That was one of the more valuable lessons I learned from him and also how he went about preparing for a game."
Kinder credited Bednarski and Hernandez with helping him learn the footwork and other intricacies required of the Seawolves' quarterback, and he has been impressed by the depth of talent on offense. "I do believe we have a slew of weapons," Kinder said.
From the day he arrived, Kinder has been throwing to tight end Will Tye, who will line up in a variety of positions, and wide receiver Adrian Coxson. Senior running back Marcus Coker will miss the opener while serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules, but Kinder named him as a valuable resource in helping him learn the offense.
"Coker knows the offense in and out," Kinder said. "He was another one of the guys during the summertime helping me come along in terms of verbiage for the plays. He's looked great coming off his [leg] injury. But all of our running backs look good."
Stacey Bedell and Tyler Fredericks will get the bulk of carries Thursday night, but it will be interesting to see how Kinder's run-pass option threat affects Bryant's veteran defense. "I don't feel any pressure at all," Kinder said. "I'm just going to have fun. This is my last go-round."