It really shouldn't be as seamless as Daniel Kinney makes it.

It really shouldn't be as seamless as Daniel Kinney makes it.

Switching schools prior to your senior year of high school typically involves a lot of teen angst and an inevitable sense of exclusion.

Making the move up three classifications and trying to fit into the puzzle of one of the best football teams in the state, well you're just kidding yourself if that's going to happen.

But here stands Kinney, proof that life is what you make it.

And proof that some dreams can come true.

"This is the best time of my life right now," says the affable South Medford High senior. "It's been my dream since third grade to play Friday nights under the lights at Spiegelberg Stadium because there's not a better place to be."

Kinney's emergence for the second-ranked Panthers has been as stunning as one of his blind-side hits on the quarterback or his darting runs through the defense.

"It's been terrific having Daniel here," says South Medford coach Bill Singler. "He's really added to our football team, obviously, on both sides of the football and in special teams. And's he's just engaged our team and they have responded to him because he is a very outgoing and likable kid."

Quick to smile and comfortable milling throughout the locker room at South, Kinney certainly isn't your typical transfer.

He spent his prior three years at Cascade Christian High, helping the Challengers earn their first-ever state title as a sophomore in 2006 at the Class 2A level. Kinney also played a pivotal role in 2007 when Cascade Christian was bumped up to the 3A level and still made the state playoffs.

But after two straight years of earning second-team all-state acclaim, Kinney began to wonder what might happen if he took the chance and opted to suit up for the Panthers for his senior year.

Amazingly, it didn't take Kinney long before he endeared himself to his teammates and was able to prove that he belonged at the 6A level. He came off the sidelines and provided a late-game spark that allowed South to thwart a comeback attempt by Lincoln on Sept. 26, and two weeks later carried the ball 15 times for 109 yards and a touchdown to help boost the Panthers to a win over North Medford.

Kinney's impact continued last week when he forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and notched seven tackles, including two quarterback sacks, in a rout of Roseburg.

"He's had a lot of patience and he's a team player and that means a lot to me," says Singler of the versatile 5-foot-10, 180-pounder. "Some guys wouldn't be so patient and they would be a little arrogant about how maybe they were handled. But he has been nothing but supportive of his role here at South and I think because of that you've seen the emergence of the real Daniel Kinney in who he is as a football player and who he is as a team member."

Not one to ever lack confidence, Kinney does admit it took a little while to make his transition to South. Most of that, however, involved football plays more than football players and unfamiliar classmates.

"The biggest adjustment was really learning the offense," says Kinney, 17. "High school is high school wherever you're at. It's a bunch of teenagers in a building and football is a bunch of teenagers on a football field. It's not too much different, it's just everything's on a bigger scale here."

"But it took a lot to get used to the new offense," he adds. "Running double-wing (at Cascade Christian) to going shotgun spread is like night and day. It's been a challenge but a lot of fun trying to learn a new offense."

His Panther teammates have made the transition easier, and Kinney is thankful for how they have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable.

"I definitely had a very warm reception from the football team," he says. "They welcomed me right in and the senior leaders really took a big step and made me feel at home and comfortable."

The rest has just involved learning his way around a new campus and realizing that he may never get to know all the faces wandering the halls.

"It's a lot different going from knowing nearly everyone in school to knowing probably one-tenth of the school's population, if that," says Kinney of attending South, which has about 1,500 more students than Cascade. "There's probably 1,000 kids I don't know in my new school."

But while some might not enjoy going from big fish in a small pond to another face in the crowd, Kinney says he's enjoyed the change.

"It's actually kinda nice and it kinda took some weight off my shoulders for my senior year," says Kinney, who was also a two-time state runner-up in the javelin at Cascade. "I didn't have to concentrate on being the main leader on the team and I could really concentrate on myself this year and improving my individual game as opposed to trying to help carry the load of a team by myself."

In relinquishing some of the leadership duties, Kinney has found that he's more comfortable on the field and can simply worry about bringing energy in his reserve role. Backing up senior tailback Patrick Thibeault has allowed him to get a sense of the game and what's going on before he's called to duty, and he's enjoyed shifting between the rover/strong safety position to cornerback depending on team need.

On offense, Kinney provides a quick, explosive weapon to complement Thibeault and fullback Sam McLaughlin. On defense, those same intangibles have allowed him to be in the mix of several big plays thus far.

"I really try to pick up on everything the coaches say and try not to get too distracted by other stuff," Kinney says on how he's been able to fit in so well. "I really love to be a student of the game, and when you've got such a great coach like Bill Singler and the rest of the staff, you can learn a lot if you just open up your ears and listen."

As the state playoffs approach, Kinney hopes to be able to provide an even bigger boost to the team as the only member of the team with state-championship experience.

"I'm very proud of that," he says of the title won in 2006. "I know it's from a smaller school, but best in the state is still best in the state. I hope the experience I've gained going deep in the playoffs I can bring to the table and help the guys more down the road."

And even though his eyes are firmly directed toward the future and, hopefully, making more dreams come true, Kinney isn't blind to those who helped make this all possible.

"I don't forget where I come from," says Kinney of his Challenger roots. "I'd like to thank coach (Andy) Maurer and coach (Brandon) Boice for starting me out on the right foot and helping me blossom into a good football career. I wouldn't be able to play at South Medford and a 6A powerhouse if it wasn't for them."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com