MISSOULA — Montana senior Kadeem Hemphill tells people he’s from California.
When he’s spent the first two-plus decades of his life moving from North Carolina to Detroit to Chicago to California to New York and now to Montana, with multiple stops at some of those destinations, he hasn’t stayed in one place for too long.
He feels the most at home in California, where the Griz will play when they open Big Sky Conference action against UC Davis at 2 p.m. MT Saturday in Davis, California, about 90 minutes from where he lived and still has residency.
“People always ask you where you’re from, and I have all these cities, and I’ve embraced them all, but I think I’m a California kid at heart,” Hemphill said.
“So, this is kind of a homecoming for me.”
With the constant moving, what Hemphill lacks in long-term entrenchment he makes up for with wide-ranging, diverse experiences that have helped shape his perspective on life.
Dealing with the adversity of adapting to new environments, he’s discovered how impactful coaches can be in his life. He feels helping other athletes directly or indirectly is the path he wants to follow beyond his college playing days, which will end at Montana, his fourth stop in five seasons and the first place where he’s spent more than one year.
“I have high regard for guys that walk on to the program and try to earn their way onto the field and stick with it,” said Montana coach Bobby Hauck, who gave him that opportunity. “He’s done that. I admire him for that.
“Like all of our guys, I hope they think that their football experience makes them better people moving forward and more prepared to be successful.”
'Embrace the grind'
Hemphill’s goal for the future is to become a college athletic director.
He’s currently working on solidifying an internship in Stanford’s athletic department. With that goal, Hemphill has been watching more sports like tennis and golf to learn all the sports involved in the full college experience.
“I love sports, love being around sports,” Hemphill said. “I’ll be able to go and learn from them first hand. It’s basically just working in compliance, which deals with transfers and stuff like that. That’s what I want to get in with that aspect first although some athletic directors go the coaching route.”
Hemphill knows quite a bit about transferring. After starting high school in Chicago, he and his brother moved out to California to live with their grandfather when their mother was working outside the country. They moved back to Chicago, attended a different high school and later returned to California at a fourth high school, where they graduated.
Kadeem and Jalen, star football players and track athletes in high school, opted to attend Army to play football. They spent their first year there as redshirts but soon after decided to transfer back to California and went to Santa Rosa Junior College.
“When I was at the junior college for a little bit, I really enjoyed it there,” Hemphill said, “but being a bounceback from a D-I and going to a junior college, I didn’t embrace my role. I loved the school, but I didn’t really enjoy it as much because I was like, ‘Man, I should be at a D-I right now.’ I think the biggest thing I learned there is just embrace it.”
The Hemphill brothers transferred to FBS San Jose State, where they spent a year before leaving. Kadeem was going to attend Division II Wayne State in Detroit prior to Montana offering a walk-on opportunity alongside his brother. He sat out last year since he transferred in late but has had the chance to earn playing time this season.
“Also just with college, don’t try to jump ahead, don’t try to be a professional right now,” Hemphill said of the lessons he’s learned. “Go with the flow. Just enjoy your time because there’s so many people who would like to get the opportunity to go to any of those schools and the University of Montana and be able to be here. Some people just take that for granted.
“When I was at Army, it was a big change for me, so I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, so there was a lot of unknown. But embrace it. Just embrace the grind.”
Throughout all the moves, those changes have meant new coaches. The positive interactions he’s had with some, including at Montana, have made him think coaching could also be an avenue for him at which to start.
“I am a little bit motivated to coach lately just from being here,” Hemphill said. “I feel like you really as a coach have a huge effect on a kid’s life. I had some great coaches when I was in Chicago. Being with them, they really changed my life. I’ve had some coaches that weren’t always as helpful. I just know that being a coach you can impact somebody’s life a lot.”
As he chases that dream of being an athletic director or potentially a coach, Hemphill hopes to put to use the lessons he’s learned, as well as his degree in organizational communication.
“He’s gotten himself straightened out academically, and he’s going to graduate, if he’s on schedule, this December,” Hauck said. “I’m fired up for him in that regard because a year ago I didn’t necessarily know that was going to happen. So, good for him.”
'He doesn't quit'
Hemphill has played only on punt return this season, blocking a gunner, but he hopes his continued work can help him earn playing time on defense. He made big plays during the spring but hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup for Hauck, who goes with the simple approach that the best players get playing time.
While Hemphill knows the opportunity to play in the NFL is dwindling, he’s not going to give it up until it’s truly over. After graduating, he’s planning to continue working out while doing his internship and then participate in Pro Day before the NFL Draft, like fellow Griz Caleb Hill, who took part in Pro Day despite not playing much in his senior season in 2018.
“I remember people were like, ‘Why are you doing a pro day? You didn’t even play,’” Hemphill said. “I remember telling Caleb, ‘You worked for this thing for your whole life, just go do it,’ He ended up getting an opportunity with the Red Sox for baseball, but I really appreciated that he did that. He’s somebody I really look up to with having the courage to do that.”
Throughout this season, Hemphill has been practicing and playing for twin brother Jalen, who left the Griz after spring camp. This is their first year ever not playing together.
“The part that motivates me the most is my brother’s not out here doing it,” Hemphill said. “Because he’s not out here, I know he’d want to be here and he’d be wanting to work hard and play. When I get tired, I’m like, ‘Let me do this rep for him,’ because I know how much he wants to be here.”
While Hemphill’s playing time hasn’t been what he likes, his hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“He’s a really good dude,” said fellow defensive back Robby Hauck. “He’s well mannered. He works hard. He’s been to four different colleges. So he doesn’t quit. That’s big in Grizzly football is that mentality and attitude. I respect him a lot for that. I think he’s a pretty dang good player, too.”
As Hemphill winds down his time at Montana, he carries with him the memories and lessons he’s learned from his experiences over the years on both coasts and points in between.
He also wears a red wristband on his left arm, keeping it turned inside out since it has “USC” on it, the school where a good friend of his plays lacrosse after starting college with him at Army.
“She’s the hardest worker I know,” Hemphill said. “So I wear it because it helps me remember to keep grinding.”