Former Nacogdoches Dragon and Atlanta Falcon Kynan Forney now knows more than anyone that a football life is just that, and just because he retired from the National Football League nine years ago, that doesn’t mean that the things he learned and relationships he built will go away.
Forney, who had his jersey number 78 retired at Nacogdoches, went on to bigger and better things in college and pro football. He currently lives in Hoschton, Ga. with his wife, Alicia, and children Kiara Gray (age 23), Tra (16), Vince (14), Amaya (11) and Sydnee Pearl (9). He comes back home about twice a year and wants to let kids and adults in his hometown that he made the best of his opportunities.
“I try to show my face for the kids, because I’m still able to use my platform to do good,” Forney said this week during a visit to Nacogdoches. “I know what it’s like growing up in here and I want to inspire other kids and show them that you can do things in a major way and still have an impact when you’re done.
“I’ve learned so much in my football life. I learned that you’ve got to go to school and get smarter and work your behind off like never before. It’s never going to be easy. You have to do more than what’s required, that’s what June Jones (former HC at University of Hawaii) used to tell me. “You don’t get more by doing less.”
Jones was just one of the instrumental people in Forney’s life and career. He had the opportunity to learn some things the hard way, but he always used those trials to further his career and his life.
Now a performance trainer of offensive lineman at DASH (Developing Athletes Starts Here) in Duluth, Ga., the 40-year old Forney said his 10-year career with the Falcons, San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars is just the tip of the iceberg.
The former Dragon fell short of what he had to do academically at Nacogdoches to make it to ‘prime time’ college football, so he took the hard route to the NFL, playing two years at Trinity Valley Community College at Athens. While playing there he helped the Cardinals to the 1997 JUCO National Championship with a 12-0 mark. He was named first-team all-conference that year. He would later be inducted into the TVCC Cardinal Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Going to Trinity Valley turned out to be a good thing for me, because when I got there I had to play with a lot of rough individuals, some from the inner city,” Forney recalled. “When I arrived, there was a lot of ‘ish’ talking. It was one of those things where you either step up or step off.
“Once I left Trinity Valley nobody could talk to me like that. No one intimidated me. I left Nacogdoches as a good player, but I still had some soft tendencies. But after leaving Trinity Valley there wasn’t any more of that talk stuff that would get to me.”
Forney said concerning his number being retired at Nacogdoches, he was disappointed and felt disrespected that a player was issued his number without his consent in the past several years. “There were previous coaches who honored the retirement of my number 78, but it seemed like Bobby Reyes’ allowing a player to wear the number was disrespectful without first contacting me or my family. Respect is important and I take a lot of pride in that number.”
After receiving offers from the likes of Eastern Illinois, New Mexico State and some interested from Stephen F. Austin, Forney decided to play for Western Athletic Conference NCAA FBS University of Hawaii. He said his stint at Hawaii was probably his defining moment in his football career.
As a junior he played in every game and made five starts. But the Rainbow Warriors were winless at 0-12, resulting in head coach Fred von Appen being fired. Forney had his own problems. He had a torn labrum in his shoulder when he arrived. In December he had his left shoulder repaired. He also had surgery on his right shoulder. He was red-shirted the next season, but came back strong for his senior year.
He posted 94 knockdown blocks his final season, while starting 11 games. He helped the team to only allow 10 sacks the entire season. Forney was named an unanimous All-WAC First-Team player in 2000.
“When I missed all of spring ball and weight lifting, I had to be a spectator and watch,” Forney said of the experience. “Going through all those times really made me appreciate the game more. I always thought if I can get back out on the field I’m not taking it for granted any more.”
And he didn’t judging from his statistics and achievements during his senior season under Jones.
More exciting times were ahead for Forney. He was the No. 219th player chosen in the in the 2001 NFL Draft, picked in the seventh round by the Falcons. And he joined first-round draft choice and NFL great Michael Vick in that class.
Things changed for the Falcons with the addition of Vick and Forney. A team that added Warrick Dunn at running back from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 turned from a team that gave up 61 sacks in 2000 (2nd worse in the league) and rushed from only 3.9 yards per carry, to one that had the top rushing attacks in the NFL in 2004 and 2005.
Despite dislocating his toe in the first game of his career in 2001, Forney started eight of 12 games, which was the beginning of a seven-year Falcon career which saw him start 68-of-80 games.
Forney said it was Jones who was the key to him being drafted by Atlanta. With his past shoulder injury problems, Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves wasn’t sure he wanted to pull the trigger on drafting Forney. But one call to Jones did the trick.
“Dan Reeves called June Jones just before they drafted me and June told him he’d be crazy not to take me in the seventh round,” Forney said. “And a couple minutes later Dan called me and said the Falcons had drafted me. I’ll never forget June Jones helping me get drafted, and that was a big part of where I am today.”
Forney said playing with Vick — who played for Atlanta from 2001-06 — was an experience he’ll never forget.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life, flat out,” Forney said of playing with the All-Pro quarterback. “It was like playing with Michael Jordan. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I knew we had our team from our first practices together. I had seen him the year before in college (Virginia Tech) and saw how he was ripping it up. And when he went to Atlanta, and when I was No. 7 (round draft pick) I knew we had something special.”
The Falcons, with Forney teaming up with center Todd McClure and tackle Todd Weiner, led the NFL in rushing in 2004 with 2,672 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per rush. In 2005 they ran for 2,546 yards and 4.8-yards a rush.
Forney then struggled with a shoulder injury in 2006, but he returned to start 14 games in 2007. He helped Atlanta to two playoff appearances and the division title in 2004, including a run to the NFC Championship game.
Forney was later named to the Bleacher Reports Falcons All-Decade team. He played 2008 with San Diego and 2009 with Jacksonville, before officially retiring from the NFL in 2010.
He was very close to making the Pro Bowl, but Dallas Cowboys’ Larry Allen kept him out on two occasions. Forney said coming close to making the Pro Bowl, despite not making it, was a defining moment in his professional career. He said also being asked by Vick to being part of his “A Football Life” story on the NFL Network also meant a lot to him because Forney said Vick thought enough of him to ask him to be a part of it. He said that respect means everything to him.