As a fifth-year senior, Tulane wide receiver Joe Kemp’s leadership skills will be put the test every day during the football season. 

But after spending the summer at Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, Kemp is more than up for the challenge of helping the Green Wave strive to post their first winning season since 2002.

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A native of North Richland Hills, Texas, Kemp has been interested in joining the military for as long as he can remember, inspired by his uncles that served in the Army. When he was given the chance to play college football at Tulane, Kemp put one dream on hold for another.

Originally a quarterback, Kemp started 12 games in his first three years for the Green Wave before switching to wide receiver last season. He earned a starting spot at the position midway through the year, and began the 2011 season on the top of the depth chart.

But as Kemp’s days on the football field are winding down, he is planning on starting a career on the battlefield.

“I’ve always been a very patriotic type of guy and I feel that it is something a lot more people would go through,” Kemp said. “You realize how lucky we are to live here and I think those things are worth defending and that is very important to me.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people wondering ‘What do I do now?’ after graduating. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so it made perfect sense.”

Kemp’s girlfriend Abby Harris – a Tulane student trainer who serves in the Navy ROTC – encouraged him to apply for the selective Marine Corps OCS. Before training begins, candidates go through a three-month acceptance process that weighs grade-point average, character and conduct. He was accepted to the OCS Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), and spent six weeks this past summer in Quantico, Va., training in the PLC Juniors. 

Officer Candidates undergo training and evaluation in leadership, physical training and academics. The course includes distance runs, combat exercises, endurance runs, challenging each candidate mentally and physically.

“Playing at quarterback most of my life, I’m very drawn to the leadership aspect of it,” Kemp said. “I feel like it is the ultimate test. If you make a mistake on the football field, the other team might score a touchdown. In this field, if you make a mistake as a leader, more than likely yours or someone else’s life will be lost. I respect and like that responsibility.”

During those long-distance runs with a 40-pound pack on his back and rifle in hand, Kemp learned how far he can really push himself.

“There are plenty of times since I’ve been back on campus that I think I have it really tough with so many hours of practice and studying,” Kemp said. “It seems like so much.  You don’t really have an idea what you can do with your body and your mind until find your limit and then break that.”

Coaches and teammates have definitely taken notice of Kemp’s seemingly boundless energy and immeasurable determination.

“He can push through things,” Tulane wide receivers coach Thomas Woods said. “It doesn’t matter how hard it is. By him going through that camp, he knows he can push through anything on the football field or in life. I don’t think there’s any limit on anything he can do.”

If you make a mistake on the football field, the other team might score a touchdown. In this field, if you make a mistake as a leader, more than likely yours or someone else’s life will be lost. I respect and like that responsibility.
-- Tulane wide receiver Joe Kemp

“It’s pretty tough out here during two-a-days with the Louisiana heat, and when everybody is starting to drag a little bit, Joe’s running laps around everybody and getting everyone moving,” senior offensive guard Harris Howard said. “It’s that kind of leadership that is going to make this a special season for us.”

Howard, who is also Kemp’s roommate, also saw another change in his teammate after OCS.

“When we picked him up from the airport I remember seeing him for the first time and he looked like he was going out for the cross country team,” Howard said. “But, his body has totally transformed back into football shape over these last couple of weeks. He went right back to work and hit the ground running. It was pretty crazy.”

While taking the summer off from football did not hinder Kemp in the preseason, it is his leadership skills that have really begun to shine since returning from Quantico.

“[It’s cool] getting to see him right in the middle of the huddle … he’s had to teach a lot of young players how to do the little things right,” Howard said. “There couldn’t be a better guy for that.” 

His coaches have noticed too.

“He had leadership skills when he left, but it seems like he’s more of a leader since he’s come back to camp,” Woods said. “It’s helping me a lot because he’s like another coach on the field. When I miss something, he’ll go up to one of the receivers and talk about it to help correct it. He’s been very vocal and has helped the young guys out.”

Kemp believes his experience on the football field -- barking out plays in the huddle -- gave him a leg up on other candidates in ’command presence.’ 

“A lot of the candidates struggled with that because at OCS that was the first time they’ve ever been put in situations where they had to speak loudly and confidently and have people follow orders and what you are saying,” Kemp said. “I naturally have been a part of that for many years in football.”

Only a small percentage of his class is expected to return after college graduation for PLC Seniors as Kemp plans to do next May. Once he completes the second six-week training, he is scheduled to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marines on July 8, 2012. It is the same day Kemp’s girlfriend will be commissioned as an officer in the Navy. 

Before that special day next summer arrives, Kemp is focused on finishing his degree and making it a memorable season for the Green Wave.

“I want to win … that’s it,” Kemp said. “This is the first year I will be starting from day one at wide receiver. Everyone in this program over the last four or five years has put so much into … so much time, so many extra hours that I just want to win for everybody – the fans, the city. It’s time to win, and I feel pretty confident that will happen this year.”