LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ryan Kennedy always knew he wanted to be a head coach.
It was only a matter of time. And, of course, it had to be the right fit.
Kennedy found exactly what he was looking for at Lakewood Ranch High School. The former Mustangs shortstop, a 2003 graduate of Lakewood, jumped at the opportunity when the head coaching position at his alma mater became available during the summer.
On Oct. 3, Athletic Director Shawn Trent announced Kennedy would replace former coach Mike Mullen, who stepped down to take an assistant-principal position at the school.
“Ryan has an incredible amount of playing and coaching experiences that we feel he will bring to the team,” Trent said in an email. “As well as being a Lakewood Ranch grad and player, we feel honored that he would accept this position.”
Kennedy served as an assistant coach at Lakewood under Mullen last season. The coaching team guided the Mustangs to the Class 6A state semifinals.
Now, Kennedy, who is one of the Mustangs most decorated players, is eager to return to the fields where he spent the majority of his teens.
“I was excited to come back to my alumni,” Kennedy says. “It means something. When you are a player here, you basically play with all of your friends whom you grew up with. It’s a family. I’m excited to continue that Mustangs tradition.”
Kennedy grew up in a pair of baseball families and it wasn’t long before he developed a passion for the game as well.
“I’ve been told that ever since I could walk I had a bat in my hand,” Kennedy says. “I just loved baseball. I was so intrigued by it and just enjoyed it. It was just natural to me.”
Kennedy played for the Manatee East Little League team that reached the Little League World Series in 1997 in Williamsport, Pa.
He went on to play for Lakewood where he was a part of the Mustangs first state championship team in 2003 and was named to the Class 5A All-State first team.
Kennedy played for the University of Florida and Manatee Community College before attending the University of Tampa, which he helped lead the Spartans to back-to-back Division II national championships in 2006 and 2007.
The Los Angeles Angels selected Kennedy in the 19th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. He spent a year playing in the Angels’ minor league system with the Pioneer League champion Orem Owlz.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in a Little League World Series, win a state championship, win two national championships and win a professional championship,” Kennedy says. “It’s one of those things where I’ve been lucky to have been a part of (those championship) teams.
“Winning a state title at Lakewood Ranch is probably my fondest memory because you grew up playing with all of your friends,” Kennedy says. “It was that single elimination that you had to overcome. Most of the time its double elimination in tournaments, but when you get past districts, its win or go home. It was a great experience and something I’ll never forget.”
Kennedy returned to the University of Tampa, where he was an assistant coach from 2008 to 2011 before returning to Lakewood last season.
During his time in Tampa, Kennedy taught clinics and instructional camps throughout the state. Now, Kennedy is hoping to help some of those players who are in the same position he was 10 years ago.
“I knew I wanted to help guys get to college,” Kennedy says. “There’s always a college out there. Hopefully, I can help guys find that college.
“I’m small and I’m not the biggest baseball player you’ll ever see,” Kennedy says. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get the things I’ve accomplished. I want to show them that if you put in the hard work and dedication it will pay off — not just in baseball but a long way in life.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].