When former Collins-Maxwell/Baxter standout Bryce Kemp decided to play college football for Eastern Michigan, the Eagles were at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference.
They had won seven games total the past four seasons and former Drake coach Chris Creighton had tallied three wins in his first two seasons as head coach.
Two years later, Kemp and the Eagles have flipped the script.
Eastern Michigan is no longer a bottom feeder in the MAC, and the future for Kemp appears to be a bright one after helping the Eagles to a historic 2016 season.
One year after redshirting and watching his team win just one game, Kemp played in every game in 2016 and helped the Eagles qualify for their first bowl game since 1995.
“I think we had just as much talent that first season, but we didn’t have that winning aspect,” Kemp said. “We lost a lot of close games but couldn’t finish it off in the fourth quarter.
“This year, we just had a bunch of guys who decided to turn this thing around. We played more as a team and everyone bought into what the coaches were selling.”
Eastern Michigan had one of the biggest turnarounds in college football.
The Eagles went 2-10 Creighton’s first season in 2014, dropped to 1-11 last year before finishing 7-6 in 2016.
The season culminated with a trip to the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas.
It was the program’s first bowl game since the Eagles played in the California Bowl in 1987.
“It was a great a experience,” Kemp said about playing in the bowl game. “They took care of us out there. When we left Michigan it was 2 degrees. It was 80 degrees the entire time in the Bahamas, so that was awesome.”
In a time where some college football players choose to skip lower-tier bowl games to put their focus on the National Football League, Kemp and his teammates enjoyed every second of their experience in the Bahamas.
Aside from playing in the program’s first bowl game in nearly three decades, Kemp also received a pair of Oakleys, a Fossil watch, plenty of new Eastern Michigan gear from Adidas and $250 in spending money.
Kemp also got a lotof exposure to the bowl game’s sponsor Popeyes Chicken.
“We got a lot of Popeyes chicken. I won’t be eating Popeyes for awhile,” Kemp said.
Kemp redshirted in his first season as Eastern Michigan after earning all-state honors for CMB as a wide receiver.
Kemp plays tight end for the Eagles, and he used that redshirt season to get acclimated into the college game.
“They told me right away that I was probably going to redshirt,” Kemp said. “I came in that first year at 213 pounds. They want me to eventually get to 250 and right now I weigh 238. So the next goal for me is to keep getting bigger so I am ready to go next season.”
Kemp played most special teams for the Eagles this season. He played in every game and was on the field in short-yardage or goal-line situations as an extra blocker. He even played fullback in a game after a teammate went down with an injury.
“I started the year playinng on all five special teams units,” Kemp said. “By the end of the year I was on the punt, PAT and kickoff return teams. The package I played a little bit on and off this year was called ‘23.’ It’s basically a red-zone, short-yardage package.”
One of the reasons Kemp chose Eastern Michigan is because he had a good chance to play early in his career.
The chance to be a starter for the Eagles could come as early as next season.
“Going in, I wasn’t sure how things were going to go,” Kemp said. “You just don’t know until you get here and see for yourself. I like where I am living, love my teammates and it’s a good fit for me.
Kemp, who is majoring in computer science and was a member of the academic all-conference team this season, said the program graduated a senior tight end this past season.
There is now only one tight end ahead of Kemp on the depth chart.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Kemp said. “It will be my third year, and I am excited to know that I can have an even bigger impact next season.”