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Karney makes the transition from the NFL
It was the competitive atmosphere of his Kent neighborhood that inspired Mike Karney.
"It helped push me. It helped me realize my talents," said Karney, a former football star at Kentwood High who went on to enjoy a successful college and NFL career. "I always felt that the more competitive you were, the more successful you'd be in life."
Those intense games of pickup football eventually paid off because Karney had found his niche.
Karney has come full circle in the game.
At Kentwood, he was a USA Today honorable mention high school All-American, earning a full-ride scholarship in 1999 to Arizona State University. He ultimately attracted the attention of the NFL. The New Orleans Saints drafted him in 2004.
After seven years of playing fullback with the Saints and the St. Louis Rams, the 5-foot-11, 260-pound Karney decided to officially walk away last February after the Seahawks declined to sign him in 2011.
"Making that decision was very tough," Karney said of retirement. "I said goodbye to a game that I've played since I was 7 years old. (But) I had to make a grownup decision, and I walked away."
Karney stepped away from the game professionally, but his love of football lives on.
Karney got involved in coaching. He participated in My Football Mentor, a website parents and coaches use to teach fundamentals. Karney's blogged and made videos for the website, explaining technique and demonstrating proper gameplay.
"I'm giving my time to a game I've played my entire life that I want to pass on," Karney said. "It's all fun. It's staying close to a game I love."
A family man today, Karney lives in California and is leaning toward a possible second career in broadcasting.
Looking back, he savors his time in the NFL, especially in the Big Easy, site of Sunday's Super Bowl.
"I love New Orleans – unlike anything else in the country," Karney said. "It's in a league all by itself."
And it was at the Superdome his rookie year that he'd play against the team he'd rooted for in Seattle for so long.
"The first game we played (was) against the Seahawks," Karney said. "Guys I looked up to, here I was playing against them."
But Karney never forgot his roots. From 2008-2010, he returned to Kent to host summer football camps. He brought some of his teammates alongside local coaches who not only taught kids how to play the game, but also lessons in dealing with adversity and sacrifice.
Karney has used the past year to transition into a new career of broadcasting through work with the California-based iBN Sports Networks that covers high school sports.
"I believe I've found my new niche: game analyst," Karney said.
Karney still visits Kent every year as a tradition, knowing this is where it all started.
"Kent will always in my heart be home," he said.