After trimming to 280 pounds, Kennedy was named honorable mention Junior College All-America in 1987. Jimmy Johnson, who was coaching Miami at the time, snatched him out from under Arkansas, but Johnson's heart sank when Kennedy arrived on campus the following August weighing 319. Johnson put him on the scout team and ordered him to lose 19 pounds. Kennedy struggled in the Florida heat, and the Hurricane players called him Two-Play Tez.
"He'd kill you for two plays, then take the next 20 off," says Randy Shannon, a senior linebacker during Kennedy's first season at Miami and now the Hurricanes' assistant defensive line coach. "He'd get past one drill, then be halfway through the second and flop down. He'd say, I can't make it.' We'd have to hold him up and say, 'Don't quit on us.' " He didn't and saw limited action as a backup.
After that season Johnson left Miami to become coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and his successor, Dennis Erickson, considered redshirting Kennedy. But Shannon wasn't about to let that happen. He moved into Kennedy's apartment and put him through boot camp. Up at 7:30 a.m. to run. Lift weights at noon. Run again at 5:30 p.m. Shannon insisted that Kennedy adhere to a low-fat diet, and he slept on the sofa to make sure Kennedy didn't raid the refrigerator at night.
In late June, Shannon, who had been drafted by the Cowboys, left for training camp, and junior defensive tackle Russell Maryland took over as Kennedy's drill sergeant. Nicknamed the Conscience because he pushed his teammates to over-achieve on the field and in the classroom, Maryland weighed 317 as a freshman but got down to 275. "If I could lose weight," Maryland says, "he could lose weight."
But Kennedy's greatest inspiration to salvage his football career came from Brown, who had been a consensus All-America for the Hurricanes in 1986. Soon after he arrived in Miami, Kennedy's coaches and teammates began telling him, "You could be the next Jerome Brown. You look just like him." The two massive men became instant friends in the spring of '89, when Brown, who had just completed his second season with the Philadelphia Eagles, burst into the Hurricanes' weight room one afternoon and bellowed, "Where's the kid who's supposed to be like me?"
"Jerome hugged me and said, 'You come with me,' " recalls Kennedy, who that summer spent long hours analyzing tapes of Brown and learning pass-rush techniques from him. When the '89 season rolled around, Kennedy weighed 285. He led all Hurricane linemen with 92 tackles (22 for losses), had 7½ sacks and was named All-America, while helping Miami win the national championship. After Seattle traded up to draft him, the Tez rode around campus in a white limousine, standing through the sunroof and celebrating his good fortune. "We're going to be big in Seattle," shouted Kennedy, who had gone to Miami intent on becoming a state trooper.
Brown and Kennedy grew closer, to the point that Jerome's mother, Annie, teased Cortez by referring to him as Jerome's twin brother. When Brown bought a white BMW 750iL, so did Kennedy. When Brown bought a Corvette ZR-1, Kennedy got one, too. After he sacked a quarterback, Kennedy performed the Tez dance, a double-pump pelvic thrust he had picked up from Brown. On Monday nights during the season the two players compared their statistics, but often their long-distance conversations drifted to serious matters, with Brown providing fatherly advice. In the off-season they were partners in fighting the battle of the bulge. They even rented a house in Orlando in the spring of 1991 and stuck to menus designed by a local sports nutritionist.
"It was a tight, tight bond," Ruby says. "They acted just like little kids. They were always laughing and hugging. They never took their friendship for granted."
On June 25, Brown and his 12-year-old nephew, Augusta, were killed when Brown lost control of his Corvette and smashed into a power pole. All the joy drained out of Kennedy's heart that day. From his parents' house in Wilson, he had spoken on the phone to Jerome and Augusta only two hours before the crash. "I cried all night," Kennedy says. "I've never cried like that in my life."
The next morning Ruby drove Cortez to Memphis International Airport. He was supposed to have flown to Miami that day to go on a cruise with Brown. Instead, he was en route to his friend's funeral.