Dan McKenna has helped AmCats grow
PAXTON — Dan McKenna knew it would take a while. Of course, St. John's High graduates are used to winning, but the former Pioneer defensive back still wanted to be part of something special at Anna Maria College.
"I just wanted to be one of the first, one of the original members of the team," said McKenna, one of 10 current seniors who were with the football program for the start of varsity play in 2009. "There's only one, you can only do that once. That was basically a main factor, in getting the whole thing going."
But there were times, especially in the middle of last season, when McKenna wondered if all the losing was worth it. The AmCats were winless through the first two campaigns, and on their way to a third. There was no way he was going to bail, though the thought crossed his mind.
"It definitely runs through your head — the blowout losses that we had to go through, and the close ones hurt more than the blowouts," he said, referring to a 48-40, triple-overtime loss to Gallaudet on Oct. 1, which followed a 56-52 heartbreaker to Castleton State the week before. "I had no idea we'd be on such a roller coaster. Just being so close but not being able to finish. To finally do it is just great."
McKenna recalls all that with a smile as Anna Maria enters this season on a two-game winning streak. Thrilling victories over Becker and at Husson in November helped him realize his investment in AmCat football has been worth it.
"The last two games were sure a great way to end the year," said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound McKenna, who this season will start at strong safety. "The first home win, and then our first road win. We went six hours up to Maine, slept in a hotel and went out and beat Husson."
After aiding St. John's to a 9-2 record his senior year, McKenna moved right into the mix at Anna Maria, seeing regular action as free safety as a freshman. He was hobbled by a knee injury as a sophomore, but returned last season to contribute in nine games at outside linebacker.
McKenna hasn't recorded any gaudy statistics, but first-year head coach Vince Sinagra is pleased to have the Rutland resident back in his secondary.
"He is that X-factor — you may never see him, but he's always around," said Sinagra, who was Anna Maria's defensive coordinator for two years before taking over as coach from Marc Klaiman. "He's not an emotional guy in terms of rah-rah, but he's always around making plays."
McKenna especially enjoys his play on special teams, thriving on making that jarring hit on a kickoff.
"Full speed down the field, blow something up and make a big play," he said. "There's a lot of big-play potential that can change the course of a game."
"I have a deep voice that's pretty loud," Sinagra said, "but when he starts barking the signals out on special teams, he's got you really snapping to attention. He's a big part there for us."
McKenna is a criminal justice major who aspires to become a state trooper or a federal-level investigator. But for next year, he likes the idea of returning to Anna Maria for its accelerated master's degree program while helping coach the AmCats.
"He has the utmost respect from his teammates because he's one of the hardest workers," Sinagra said. "I don't know how many interceptions he's going to have. He might not be on anybody's radar for All-American or all-this, but I'll tell you one thing, I'm glad to have Dan McKenna because he brings a lot of intensity to our program, and the kids follow him."