An SIU cornerback’s journey to joining the Salukis


Saluki redshirt freshman cornerback Kerwin McElvaney runs down the field near Racer freshman wide receiver Jonathan Moss during SIU’s 50-17 win against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Tyra Wooten

Redshirt freshman cornerback Kerwin “K.J.” McElvaney’s journey to SIU football was anything but easy.

When starting cornerback Roman Tatum broke his hand against Florida Atlantic, second string McElvaney had to step up in his place. Within the past two games, McElvaney has had three solo tackles and one assist tackle.

But McElvaney’s hometown of Louisville, Ky. — a city that recorded more than 80 homicides in 2015, according to the Courier-Journal — provided a tough upbringing. McElvaney said seeing fights and hearing gunshots was common in his neighborhood. 


“I didn’t ever want to be caught in a wrong place at the wrong time,” the 6-foot-1 freshman said. “I had to take a different path if I wanted to take this football stuff far in life.”

McElvaney’s trainer, former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Vaughn, changed his life, he said, and motivated him to improve his football skills.

“Vaughn has a huge impact on the Louisville community and on my life,” McElvaney said. “I was either going to waste my time with football or take it serious.”

During his senior year of high school, McElvaney transferred to Milford Academy, a post-secondary all-boy school in New Berlin, N.Y. The academy ranked fifth in the nation in football while he was there, according to his SIU biography. 

Milford Academy has produced NFL players such as Buffalo Bills’ LeSean McCoy and Tennessee Titans’ Shonn Greene.

McElvaney said New Berlin held little excitement, so he only looked forward to football.

“It was a ghost town,” McElvaney said of the 1,003-person town. “Our school was built like a castle with nothing but hills.”


As for the sport itself, football has always ran in the family, McElvaney’s father, Kerwin McElvaney Sr., said during a recent interview.

“K.J. has gone further in football than I ever could’ve,” McElvaney Sr. said. “K.J. has always been extra motivated.”

After he graduated from Milford, McElvaney wasn’t provided with many opportunities to continue playing football. He originally committed to Temple University in Philadelphia, but the offer was dropped after his SAT scores weren’t received, he said.  

McElvaney didn’t have a backup plan. He went back home to Louisville and began contacting coaches on his own.

But he was staying with Vaughn, who had him training twice a day.

“The biggest thing that stood out about K.J. was that he had a heart of a champion,” Vaughn said. “K.J. had a strong belief in himself and that’s the winning formula in life.”

The cornerback got in touch with then-SIU coach Dale Lennon, who offered him an opportunity.

When McElvaney arrived at SIU in spring 2015, humble wasn’t a word he knew well.

“Even though I was a scout team player, I was very arrogant and had a bad attitude,” McElvaney said.

SIU coach Nick Hill picked him apart and pushed him to become humbler, showing him how to be a better man, McElvaney said.

“It was a proud moment when K.J. played well,” Hill said of McElvaney’s performance against Southeast Missouri State. “K.J. has grown a lot and I’m proud of him on and off the field.”

Fans can watch McElvaney at 4 p.m. Oct. 1 when the Salukis take on Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Staff writer Tyra Wooten can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @twootenDE.

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