ON STANDS NOW: Although gone, Shawn Kuykendall lives on
The 2004 Patriot League Championship team walked across the AU turf during the halftime of the Oct. 4 men’s soccer game against the College of Holy Cross to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their accomplishment.
Each member of the team was called to walk to the middle of field as the crowd cheered.
However, there was one name that was saved for last.
Shawn Kuykendall, the 2004 Patriot League offensive player of the year and draft pick for the local MLS team D.C. United, died March 12, 2014, after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of thymic cancer just eight months earlier.
“He was one of the most passionate guys, and I think it really bled down from him to the players,” senior defender Jordan Manley said. “He would come in and get us all fired up and get us to love the game. He honestly brought it all.”
Kuykendall’s family was present among the crowd. His parents, Kurt and Sherry Kuykendall, are both graduates of AU, and Kurt Kuykendall was a goalkeeper for the soccer team. He earned honorable mention All-American recognition in 1973.
Shawn Kuykendall is one of the greatest soccer players in the history of AU’s program. He is tied for the all time lead in assists, fifth in points and seventh in goals. He earned 29 assists, 75 points and 23 goals. Along with all of these accomplishments, Kuykendall also had the second most assists in a single season with 11.
Kuykendall continued his soccer career after he graduated from AU and was drafted by local MLS team D.C. United.
He only played 10 minutes during his career with D.C. United, but Kuykendall lived out one of his childhood dreams during his short time on the field.
On July 29, 2005, perennial powerhouse English Premier League club Chelsea FC came to RFK Stadium in D.C. to play the United in an exhibition game. Kuykendall entered the game with 10 minutes left, and played against his favorite player, legendary Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard. Chelsea won the game, 2-1.
When the final whistle blew, Kuykendall found himself on the field next to his idol. They exchanged jerseys, a common show of sportsmanship and respect in soccer. Kuykendall described the experience as one of the highlights of his career, according to an interview conducted by the USA Today.
At halftime of the game, men’s soccer coach Todd West presented the Kuykendall family with a signed Frank Lampard jersey that the Chelsea player donated to the University.
“The football family has lost a fine young man, and everyone’s thoughts at Chelsea FC are with you, your family and Shawn’s friends,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho wrote in a letter to the Kuykendall family.
Kuykendall joined the New York Red Bulls for the 2006 season, but he was let go after one year. He returned to coach at AU in 2010 as a voluntary assistant coach and was quickly promoted by head coach Todd West to a full time assistant coach where he stayed until 2013.
“He’s like the son I didn’t have, from playing here and being an assistant coach, the Kuykendall family means so much to this program,” West said. “The Kuykendall family has been huge to this program and this institution. I always say I can’t do enough to thank them, so that was my small way to try to say thanks.”
Kuykendall’s impact was not only felt by Lampard, Mourinho and West, but also by senior captains Jordan Manley and Stephen Hauschild. Both athletes played under Kuykendall during his tenure as an assistant coach, and they felt his presence every day at practice.
“He was really intense,” Hauschild said. “He would play with us at practice and push us everyday to become better players.”
On Saturday, when the Eagles faced off against the College of the Holy Cross, each player carried Kuykendall’s legacy by wearing his name embroidered on the back on their jerseys.
To cap a near perfect day, senior defender Christian Robbs secured the win for the Eagles in double overtime with a volley that propelled his team past the Crusaders, 3-2.
After the game, each of the Kuykendall jerseys worn by the players were subject to a silent auction. The sales brought in a total of $4,192, and proceeds from the event benefited Kuykendall’s foundation, Kuykenstrong and American University.
Kuykendall created the Kuykenstrong foundation during the final months of his battle with cancer. This foundation partnered with the Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center to provide “financial support, resources and above all friendship to families at Georgetown University Hospital,” according to the Kuykenstrong foundation website.
The team has fully adopted a “Kuykenstrong” mentality, a philosophy that emphasizes the passion that Shawn exhibited for life and sports, and it has paid dividends on the field.
The Eagles have experienced great success throughout the 2014 season. Unranked in the pre-season, the Eagles put themselves on the map win an upset of previously-ranked No. 1 University of California Los Angeles during a tournament in New Mexico. Their win vaulted the team into the national spotlight and earned the Eagles a 12th ranked position in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll, their highest ranking since the 2007 season. The team is currently ranked 20th in the nation.
The Kuykendall family has a deep tradition of AU soccer success in their family. Kuykendall’s brother, Kris, served as the team’s co-captain of the team in 2002, and his brother J.P, class of 2008, also played soccer for the Eagles.
There have been numerous tributes to Shawn Kuykendall since his death, including a Baltimore marathon relay group who ran in his honor and a “Kuykendall” night hosted by D.C. United.
The front page of the Kuykenstrong foundation website, Kuykenstrong.com, has a picture of Kuykendall, dressed in a suit and playing an acoustic guitar. Along with this picture, there is a simple quote.
“God has a plan. Live or die, I win.”