Kendarius “K.D.” Small could be considered a late bloomer when it comes to football. But it’s safe to say he’s developed rapidly into a quality player — one good enough to earn a major college scholarship just six years after picking up the sport as a ninth grader.
Small, an offensive tackle from Southwest Mississippi Community College, became the latest member of East Carolina’s football recruiting Class of 2024 on November 27. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, gave his verbal commitment to the Pirates after also considering scholarship offers from Akron, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Arkansas State, Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, Jackson State, Lamar, McNeese State, New Mexico, Tulsa, Tennessee-Martin and Western Kentucky.
Former East Carolina offensive line coach Allan Mogridge started the courtship with Small in early October, and those conversations resulted in a scholarship offer from the Pirates on Oct. 26. Small took an official visit to Greenville and witnessed ECU’s dramatic 29-27 setback against Tulsa in the season finale before offering his pledge.
“Growing up being a football fan, I’d always seen them on TV here and there, and I thought they had really cool uniforms,” Small said. “When I got older and started to understand football more, I kept up with them and watched them in their bowl game last year.”
ECU’s coaching staff, the opportunity for early playing time and the town of Greenville itself were all selling points for Small when he came for the official visit.
“I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I grew up in the University of Alabama’s backyard,” he said. “So, all that stuff was really familiar to me, Greenville being a football town. It just clicked with me.
“The night I got there (on official visit) we had dinner with the whole staff. The love the coaches showed, it was like no other place, really.
“Then there was the opportunity to play. That played a big part. They had some tackles leaving, and the rest of their tackles are younger guys who still need time to develop. So really, the message to me was they need me to come play right away.”
Playing college football wasn’t exactly on Small’s mind as a middle schooler back in 2017. In fact, sports in general weren’t part of Small’s lifestyle.
It wasn’t until being discovered by varsity coaches from Tuscaloosa County High School during a visit to the middle school that Small embarked on a football career.
“Nobody in my family was a football player, or played sports,” Small said. “But when I was in middle school the high school coaches would visit to see the kids who were coming to the high school the next year. The high school coach saw me and told me I should come out for the spring, and that’s what I did.”
Small spent his first season at Tuscaloosa County on the freshman squad before earning a late-season promotion to the varsity for two games. He became a full-time member of the varsity as a 10th grader and a starter for his final two seasons.
Alabama A&M and Arkansas State extended early scholarship offers, but Small said those disappeared when those schools decided to fill their roster spots with transfer portal players instead.
“So many high school kids get the bad side of that (portal),” Small said. “Basically, a lot of roster spots were filled with transfers coming, so there was no scholarship left for me. But it worked out OK because coming to Southwest Mississippi opened even more doors for me.”
A regular part of the offensive line rotation at Southwest as a freshman, Small earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He started all nine games for the Bears as a sophomore this season.
Small is scheduled to graduate from Southwest Mississippi later this month and will enroll at East Carolina in January. He hopes to make an immediate impact with the Pirates in spring practice.
“My strength is definitely pass protection,” Small said. “I feel like I’m a pass protection specialist. It’s something me and my teammates joke about and it’s what I really love the most. I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better at run blocking. I’m excited to get to Greenville and start showing the coaches what I can do.”