Cullowhee, N.C. - As the rigors of preseason fall camp slowly begin to come to a close, two Western Carolina football walk-on seniors received news that neither expected.
Senior running back James Foushee and redshirt senior defensive lineman Sheldon Kinard were both awarded full scholarships on Wednesday afternoon by sixth-year head coach Mark Speir, aided by a special guest speaker during a team meeting.
Wednesday's afternoon team meeting opened as they usually do with instructions and a schedule review from Speir -- business as usual. This particular afternoon, the team already knew would be a little different because of guest speaker, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adam Palmer -- a wounded military veteran that Speir met during his work with Operation Heal Our Patriots in Alaska this summer.
Palmer delivered a riveting testimony about his three military tours overseas and his struggles following what was a critical life-altering wound received in the line of duty. He stressed team and selflessness and being a source of encouragement for others -- principles Speir reiterates with his squad daily as students, football players, and as citizens.
Near the end of his inspiring talk, he called on two walk-ons to join him at the front of the room. Enter James Foushee and Sheldon Kinard. The two players were heralded by Palmer for being unheralded -- for being selfless and giving their all as walk-on football players paying their way through school.
Palmer -- who is scheduled to return to Cullowhee to lead the Catamounts out on the field wielding the American flag prior to WCU's home-opener against Davidson on Sept. 9 -- then looked at Speir as if he were a newly enlisted recruit in basic training and sternly asked -- "What do you have for these two men?"
Speir promptly responded by exclaiming, "Full scholarships!" producing a pair of official documents for the duo while simultaneously setting off a tremendous show of love and support as the entire meeting room -- 100-strong -- erupted in cheers of support and each player rushed to the front of the room.
Foushee and Kinard -- both unsuspecting when they were called to the head of the class -- referenced Wednesday afternoon's experience as "humbling."
"At first, when I got called up to the front of the room, I didn't know what was going on. I don't want to say that I was suspicious, but it got kind of weird being at there in front of my teammates," said Kinard about Wednesday's surprise. "I was fine until everyone started hugging me, then I really started tearing up."
Kinard added, "Receiving this scholarship shows me that all of the hard work through the years has paid off. There's no different mindset - I've got to continue to come out here every day ready to work, ready to play for these guys and try to get this championship. That's the ultimate goal."
Foushee transferred to WCU from Guilford College prior to the 2015 season, sitting out the year due to NCAA transfer rules. As a junior in 2016, he was a vital part of the Catamount special teams, making his debut in the Purple & Gold in the home win over Gardner-Webb. The Sanford, N.C., native is majoring in management through WCU's College of Business.
"I honestly didn't know what to expect," said Foushee on being pulled out of the audience of his teammates and to the front of the room by Palmer. "It was humbling, very emotional. I think I held it together fairly well until Donnavan (Spencer) came up and hugged me, and then the rest of the guys."
Foushee added, "Receiving this scholarship definitely means a lot. Coach Speir always talks to us about Galatians 6:9 - 'never grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time, a man will reap what he sows.' Those words stick with me every day, so I just come out here and give all that I've got with or without a scholarship. I just love football, it's what I love to do. Not everyone gets this opportunity to play football at this level. I just try to take full advantage of this chance every day."
After redshirting in 2013 as a true freshman, Kinard has seen action in 15 games for the Catamounts mostly as a reserve along the defensive line and special teams. Last season, Kinard was credited with a quarterback hurry in the 2016 season-opener at East Carolina and recorded his first collegiate tackle in league play at Mercer in mid-October. The Charlotte, N.C., native is majoring in computer information systems within WCU's College of Business.
Both Foushee and Kinard are on pace to graduate from WCU in December.
During Speir's tenure in Cullowhee, Foushee and Kinard mark the 11th and 12th deserving walk-on recipients to receive full scholarships. Last season, Speir surprised former Catamount linebacker Coleman Cunningham with a scholarship for his final year on the field, doing so likewise near the conclusion of a preseason team meeting.
Western Carolina continues its preseason practice on Friday morning ahead of Saturday afternoon's final scrimmage of fall camp with the "Meet the Cats" scrimmage. The Catamounts open the 2017 season on the road at Hawai'i on Saturday, Sept. 2, before hosting the Davidson Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 9 with a special "Blackout" game in Cullowhee.
Both season and single-game tickets for all five home dates of Western Carolina's 2017 football season are on sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401.
2017 Catamount Football -- Upcoming Fall Practice Schedule:
Friday, Aug. 18 -- Practice #18 -- 9:15 am - 11:15 am (shells)
Saturday, Aug. 19 -- Practice #19 -- "Meet the Cats" Scrimmage, 1:00 - 3:30 pm (full)
* Practice times are subject to change
Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Football:
Friday, Aug. 18 - Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Saturday, Aug. 19 - Football Scrimmage No. 3 and "Meet the Cats" following practice<
Monday, Aug. 21 - First day of fall classes; "Solar Eclipse Blackout Uniforms" Facebook LIVE event presented by Stanberry Insurance
Saturday, Sept. 2 - 2017 Catamount Football season-opener at Hawai'i -- 6 pm HT / Midnight ET
Friday, Sept. 8 - 13th annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament at The Maggie Valley Club
Saturday, Sept. 9 - 2017 - Catamount Football home-opener vs. Davidson in Cullowhee, N.C. (BLACKOUT / Fireworks Night, presented by Ingles and iHeartRadio partners 99.9 Kiss Country and Star 104.3 FM)
Friday, Oct. 27 - "The Mutt" Catamount Football Golf Classic at the Laurel Ridge Country Club
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports), Twitter (@catamounts, @WCU_FB), and Instagram (wcu_catamounts), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).