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‘The ultimate competitor:’ Billy Kemp IV’s journey from under-the-radar recruit to Virginia star

Junior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV’s competitiveness, heart and determination has catapulted him into the number one wide receiver spot for the Cavalier offense

<p>One of Billy Kemp IV's goals going into the 2020 season was to be the most consistent and reliable player on the offense, and during the 2020 season, he did just that, leading the Cavaliers in both receptions and receiving yards at 67 and 644, respectively, and averaging 9.6 yards per catch, a career best.</p>

One of Billy Kemp IV's goals going into the 2020 season was to be the most consistent and reliable player on the offense, and during the 2020 season, he did just that, leading the Cavaliers in both receptions and receiving yards at 67 and 644, respectively, and averaging 9.6 yards per catch, a career best.

The success of many athletes is often pre-determined by size. But for 5-foot-9, 170-pound Virginia junior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV, that attribute has often been overlooked throughout his athletic career. Nevertheless, Kemp IV has consistently overcome his physical stature with his work ethic. He has pushed himself above and beyond to get to where he is today.

Kemp IV’s ascendance as a football player has been attributed to his fearless and relentless mentality, his detailed preparation and his tenacity and determination to compete at the highest level imaginable and succeed not just for himself but for the betterment of the teams he has played on.

Growing up in Highland Springs, Va., Kemp IV established an athletic foundation early on in his life. During childhood, he loved to play football, but Kemp IV developed athletically by playing multiple sports, including baseball and basketball. He played all three sports year-round for Glen Lea and Chamberlayne Youth Recreational League teams.

The thrill to compete and ultimately be the best at anything he puts his mind to was essential to his decision to play multiple sports. When competing, Kemp IV’s goal was always to win and he attributes the development of his competitive mindset to the relationships he established while young.

“I hate to lose in anything that I do — that is the reason why I love a lot of sports,” Kemp IV said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “Growing up around my friends in the Highland Springs area, playing sports, everybody is competitive. That is where my competitive nature grew stronger.”

Kemp IV’s drive has been a staple to his character as it is the engine that has driven him every day as his future has unfolded. During his time as a baseball player, Kemp IV’s desire and passion to compete as a young athlete was exhibited through his versatility and willingness to play more than one position. 

Kemp IV credits this versatility playing baseball to developing the hand-eye coordination he now uses as a wide receiver. 

“I really feel being a receiver now, those things really helped me with tracking the ball,” Kemp IV said. 

In high school, his focus shifted to only playing football. Kemp IV’s high-school football career began at Lee Davis, now known as Mechanicsville High School, in Hanover County, Va., where he played his freshman and sophomore seasons.  After his sophomore season, Kemp IV took his talents to Highland Springs High School, where he played his junior and senior years.

Photo by Emma Klein

Having already played in the Highland Springs area as a youth, Kemp IV meshed well with his surroundings socially since he was surrounded by familiar faces and playing alongside close friends. This was an important means of support for Kemp IV while making the transition.

“A lot of my friends growing up and the people I was always around were from the Highland Springs area,” Kemp IV said. “It was big, especially changing high schools, but [I was] changing high schools [to] where [I knew] almost everybody there.”

Although he had quickly found familiarity and comfort in his new environment, Kemp IV’s transition to his new team was a bigger challenge to overcome. The Highland Springs football program is elite in the state of Virginia and among schools nationally. The program is led by Coach Loren Johnson, a winner of four straight state championships. The program consistently exports a lot of talented players to the best Division I college football programs in the nation year in and year out. Many of those players — like first-round draft pick Mekhi Becton of the New York Jets — have gone on to play professionally in the NFL.

Not only did Kemp IV have to compete with the best high school players in the state of Virginia daily, but he also had to learn and adapt to a new system. Because of this, when Kemp IV arrived, he had to prove himself day in and day out to climb the loaded depth chart Highland Springs possessed to earn playing time and his teammates’ respect.

Kemp IV embraced that challenge and worked extremely hard to become a starter, and he was always willing to learn and perform wherever his coaches needed him. Kemp IV entered the program as a wide receiver. However, due to a logjam at the position, Coach Johnson placed Kemp IV in other roles. 

“You have a guy so talented, you want to get him on the field, so we put him at defensive back and then we told him you have to start holding kicks, then you have to start returning punts.” Anywhere we possibly could, we put him, and made sure he was there to utilize his talent,” Johnson said.

Despite having to learn a variety of positions, Kemp IV was able to handle the workload.

“He adapted extremely fast, and he put himself in position to be on the field extremely fast,” Johnson said. 

With practice, hard work, dedication and commitment, Kemp IV was able to break through and earn playing time on the field, establishing himself as a role model and team captain in the process. On days off, he emphatically led catching sessions and offseason workouts. 

“That’s what made him great,” Johnson said. “He was a guy influencing or encouraging a guy to go.”

Kemp IV was a significant contributor during his junior and senior seasons. His talent flourished everywhere on the field and Johnson even referred to him as the team’s “swiss army knife.” Kemp IV consistently made his presence felt in all three phases of the game. 

His impact played a major part in leading Highland Springs to consecutive state championships in 2016 and 2017. Johnson credited the success of his program to Kemp IV’s outstanding character and his remarkable ability as a player. 

“It was a great opportunity for us to be successful just by his work ethic, his desire to lead ,and will for us to win” Johnson said.

However, after the conclusion of his senior season, he was still not a highly rated prospect due to his smaller stature, Johnson mentioned. Nevertheless, he attended a football camp at Virginia, where his extraordinary performance garnered the attention of Coach Bronco Mendenhall.

It was an easy decision for Mendenhall to offer Kemp IV a scholarship. 

“We did not have anyone in camp who could cover him,” Mendenhall said to Virginia Sports War. “He was the best player on the field at any position on that day.”

It was Kemp IV’s determination to out-compete everyone on the field that earned him an opportunity to play for the Cavaliers. But it was the locker room culture at Virginia — one which emphasized family — and the fact that both his father and sister attended Virginia that helped convince him to join the team. 

“Family has been such a big part of my life,” Kemp IV said. “Our focus on the team is family so that meant the world to me.” 

He officially accepted a scholarship offer in Dec. 2017.

Photo by Emma Klein

Since his commitment, Kemp IV has gradually progressed every year he has played with the Cavaliers. He did not see the field a lot during his freshman year in 2018, but wide receivers coach Marques Hagans expressed a lot of confidence in Kemp IV after that season concluded. 

“He’s shown he has the ability,” Hagans said to The Daily Progress. “He just has to show he can be consistent … There is a huge ceiling for him.”

Kemp IV’s 2019 season was his coming out year. Against in-state rival Virginia Tech, he caught a key 25-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career from quarterback  Bryce Perkins, which helped propel the Cavaliers over the Hokies to earn their first Commonwealth Cup in 15 seasons. Along with that, he tallied 35 receptions and 289 receiving yards on the year, a major improvement from his 2018 season where he did not record a statistic in the receiving category. 

One of his goals going into the 2020 season was to be the most consistent and reliable player on the offense, and during the 2020 season, he did just that, leading the Cavaliers in both receptions and receiving yards at 67 and 644, respectively, and averaging 9.6 yards per catch, a career best.

Kemp IV credits some of this development to players that have come before him like Olamide Zacchaeus and Joe Reed. 

“Just watching the things they did, how they prepared for games and how they practiced really impacted my first years here,” Kemp IV said. 

Kemp IV has believed in himself every step of the way to earn the success he has obtained thus far by being the team’s leading receiver. 

“[With] all the preparation and hard work, I knew this day would come, and I was really looking forward to the day where I could make an impact,” Kemp IV said. 

The numerous personal records set by Kemp IV indicate his impact was unquestionably felt during the 2020 season, a season cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. His performance on the field has enhanced his presence as one of the premiere leaders not just within his position group but throughout the Cavalier football program. As he continues to build on his success as a leader and as a player, he will undoubtedly be one of the most important pieces to the Cavaliers success going into the 2021 season.

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