Nov. 30, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Kenny Harney and Marcus Lawrence used to patrol the gridiron, protecting South Carolina’s turf from opposing ball carriers. Now, the former Gamecock linebackers protect and serve in their respective communities as law enforcement officers.
“The thing I like about being a police officer is just helping other people, really, and that you can affect change in other people’s lives,” Harney said.
“It’s a serious job with a lot of responsibility,” Lawrence said. “I have a few family members who are in law enforcement. So growing up seeing them led me into this position.”
Lawrence is working for the City of Aiken Department of Public Safety as a School Resource Officer at South Aiken High School. He had spent five years as a patrol officer and also works in juvenile investigations.
“I’m here to protect the kids and the faculty and staff,” Lawrence said. “I’m here to prevent things from happening, such as active shootings and fights and other things like that. I know how to talk to the kids. I try to show them respect, and that I’m a human being too, even though I’m in uniform. They can still come to me and talk to me about anything. It doesn’t always have to be about being in trouble or crimes.”
Harney has been in law enforcement in South Carolina for eight years. He spent the last four years as a police officer with the City of Fairfax Police Department after previously serving in the Allendale Sherriff’s Department. The two law officers understand that their job can put them in tense situations.
“In law enforcement, you have to make a lot of split-second decisions,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been in those situations a few times. Luckily the outcome was in my favor, and actually, the other person’s favor too. Sometimes it gets kind of stressful because you leave home every morning not knowing if you’re actually going to come back or see your family again. I feel like I have enough training to rely on to be able to protect myself as well as others to put myself in the position to make it home at the end of my shift.”
“There are times you can get nervous,” Harney said. “I have been put in situations where I’ve really had to think how I’m going to handle this one once I arrive. That’s where training comes in. Just like in being prepared when you’re playing football. It’s important that you train and prepare.”
Both were well prepared in their respective football careers for the Gamecocks. Harney wore the garnet and black from 1998-2001 and after a brief NFL career as a free agent with the Houston Texans and the Green Bay Packers, he went on to play for the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe in 2003. Lawrence played for the Gamecocks in 2003 and 2004 and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. He had free agent stints with the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings.
A lot of the testing that I had to do at the Criminal Justice Academy, it was sort of like a refresher course because I already knew a lot of it from my education at South Carolina.
Harney’s collegiate career began with a 1-21 record in his first two seasons, but culminated with back-to-back Outback Bowl victories in his last two years. The lessons learned on the football field carried over to his professional life.
“I learned how to overcome adversity and get through the rough times,” Harney said. “Being on a football team with 100 or more people, you meet people from all walks of life. You learn to survive by living with each other and it becomes a brotherhood. In law enforcement, it’s the same way. Every day I meet people from all walks of life. Football taught me how to approach people. You go through tough times like we did in football, and you figure out how to solve problems. Just like in football, in every day life, you have to have teamwork and cooperation. We work with other law enforcement agencies, and you have to have trust in your co-workers because one mistake can cost a person his or her life.”
Both men have four children, and despite the stress of their jobs, Harney and Lawrence find fulfillment in what they do.
“Law enforcement is not just about arresting people,” Harney said. “We can also make changes in people’s lives. You’d be amazed at how many young folks who I come into contact with actually look up to us. There are people I can counsel about mistakes they are making. One of the biggest challenges is gaining the trust of your peers. This is a job where you can lose a life if you make a mistake. Helping others is what I like most about the job, though.”
“I’m in schools protecting the kids, the faculty and the staff,” Lawrence said. “I’m just making sure everybody is safe. I’m also a part-time football coach working with the d-line. I love it. I love the people I work with. I love being at the school I’m at right now. I can help the kids and guide them and teach them along the way so they don’t make mistakes – even some of the mistakes I made when I was their age. Things don’t always work out the way you want to, but that’s why you get your education.”
The two also understand that negative stories about police officers are going to get a lot attention, and a positive perception from the community they serve is important.
“There are so many police officers who are doing great things,” Harney said. “We are in a field where the actions of one leads to the public perception that all police officers are like that. People have to realize that when I put on that badge, I’m having all kinds of things thrown at me. I thank God every day when I’m able to come home back to my family. There’s a lot of stress as part of the job.”
“I’ve been blessed and lucky where I’ve worked,” Lawrence said. “The people here in Aiken are good people. I rarely hear anything negative about law enforcement here. With social media, one click of the camera can make everybody go crazy. Here, they understand what’s going on, and there are a lot of really good officers.”
As they look back on their time at South Carolina, the two are thankful for the opportunities that were afforded to them, on and off the field.
“My best memories are just coming in and having that camaraderie with the fellas in the locker room,” Harney said.
“The Criminal Justice program at South Carolina was great,” Lawrence said. “A lot of the testing that I had to do at the Criminal Justice Academy, it was sort of like a refresher course because I already knew a lot of it from my education at South Carolina. A lot of people were stressing out about the testing and things like that, but I felt like it was kind of easy for me because of what I already learned. I’m thankful for that.”
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