Kevin Bentley never intended to play in the NFL. Growing up, he didn’t dream of touchdowns and endorsements. Instead, he imagined himself as a business person, decked out in a three-piece suit, running the show and helping others. For Bentley, football was a means to get into college. In fact, you could call him an accidental athlete whose pro career was a detour from his destiny.
It wasn’t an easy path, though. “I was brought up very rough in a gang neighborhood,” Bentley tells Poets&Quants. “I lost my brother when I was a junior in high school to gang violence. He was the brother right above me and he was one of my closest friends. But through the grace of God and people who were close to me, I found a way out of a situation that most people say you shouldn’t make it out of.”
And Bentley capitalized on what little he was given. In high school, he carried a GPA higher than 4.0 and earned a scholarship to Northwestern University. There, he made the Big 10’s All Academic team for four years, maintaining a 3.5 GPA as he majored in communication. On the field, he was the undisputed leader on defense, once named a finalist for the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker. Despite the accolades, Bentley had to grow up fast. In 2001, his best friend and roommate, Rashidi Wheeler, died running a drill, an event that placed a national spotlight on amateur practice regimens and safety. He wore Wheeler’s number 30 in his honor as a senior.
Bentley played for five teams during his 10-year NFL career, which culminated in a Super Bowl XL appearance with Seattle, a defense that included fellow MBAs Isaiah Kacyvenski (Harvard, ’11) and Bryce Fisher (Booth, ‘11). In a league where the average career lasts just 3.3 years, Bentley persevered through a Spartan training regimen that included yoga, acupuncture, massages, and hyperbaric chamber visits. In the off-season, he would bike up to 500 miles a week. And he was so nutrition-conscious that he had meals prepared and shipped to him from San Diego.
He applied this same level of commitment to his MBA studies. After retiring in 2012, he completed the NFL’s custom executive education program at Harvard, getting back into the academic flow as he evaluated what he wanted in an MBA program. At the same time, he taught snowboarding in Vail, a passion that grew out of his love for skateboarding as a child. After 13 campus visits, he eventually chose Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business due to the caliber of people he met there. At Rice, Bentley immediately stood out as a leader whom faculty and classmates describe as “forward thinking,” “thoughtful” and “hard-working.” “If an MBA can be said to stand for a Masters of Being Anything, Kevin certainly embodies that mantra,” cracks Jeremy Grace, director of the full-time MBA program at Rice.
In August, he will be joining Infosys as a senior consultant. He was recently named among Poets& Quants’ Best-and Brightest MBAs in the Class of 2015.
I was born and raised in the heart of Los Angeles. I come from the family of nine children. There are five boys and four girls and I’m the third oldest. I bounced around the city for elementary and junior high before moving to the San Fernando Valley for high school.
My passion growing up was to become a businessperson. I’m not really sure where it came from, maybe from TV and movies because back then the main characters were business guys running companies. It was something innate in me that I wanted to do from a young age. I always dreamed about going back and getting an MBA after graduating from college. It was intriguing to me from a young age and that’s where the seed was planted.
A pivotal point early on was going from first to second grade. I was bored in public school – they wanted me to skip a grade. Instead, we opted for Ambler Magnet School. I went from being top in all the assignments to being average because there were so many smart individuals at the magnet school. That really pushed and challenged me early on. It was also an interesting dynamic because I lived in the inner city and was bused away to this magnet school which was 45 minutes away. I didn’t fit in either side. The magnet school was a predominately white school, where there were only two other African Americans in my class. When I came home, I didn’t fit in because I didn’t speak slang and all that. So I had to find my way.
In high school, I started out at a public school, Chatsworth High, and wasn’t particularly challenged. I also didn’t like the social dynamic. It was more of a fashion show and people were more interested in how they looked than how they performed in the classroom. There was a lot of unwanted and unneeded pressure. [At the same time], I came to learn that I was pretty good at sports. There was a guy that I played against in my neighborhood, Carlease Clark, who told me, ‘It would be awesome to play with each other instead of against each other.’ So I started to go to the private school where he was, Montclair Prep, at the end of my sophomore year. I took all the entrance exams and scored high for the advanced placement honors classes and made the transition. It was interesting because although I scored high on the exams, they put me in the lower tracked classes. I had to fight them until I got moved to the AP classes.
One of my biggest influences during this time was Cheryl and Francis Power. I was introduced to their family by their daughter, who was a friend (and is now like a sister to me). I came from a really impoverished neighborhood. And this family took me into their home. It was refreshing for me because, at that point, I started to see what real love was like. They have been married for a little over 40 years and they put three kids through college. I actually call them my second mom and dad. I’m not sure I’d be where I am today without them. They supported me throughout. They never missed a high school game. They never missed a college game, whether it was in-person or taping them. I flew them out to at least a game a year in the pros. They’ve just been a huge part of my life, my kids’ life and my family’s life. There were times when they’d send their daughter to school with extra lunch for me. It was the little things they did. They embraced me as a son. I still have a room in their house. That’s where my family and I stay when I go out to California to visit. It’s crazy the amount of blessings I’ve had and opportunities based on other people. I guess that’s why my decisions are so people-based – because I know what good people in your life will do for you. The Power family is right there with my mom.
My interest in Northwestern started out purely academic….I didn’t start playing football until ninth grade. My buddies asked me to play football with them as a way to stay in shape until basketball season came around…When I moved to private school, I realized that I actually had a shot of going to college. Coming from a family of nine, you can imagine that we couldn’t afford college. That was my end goal. It was never to go pro or anything like that. It was strictly to get a scholarship to a four-year school.