Northern Colorado quarterback Shea Kuykendall looks downfield as he rolls out with the ball during the Bears’ Big Sky Conference game against Idaho on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 at Nottingham Field in Greeley. Kuykendall threw a touchdown pass in his first collegiate start, but he also had an interception returned for a touchdown late in the game in Idaho’s 27-13 win. (Courtesy/UNC Athletics).
It’s been two years since Shea Kuykendall started consecutive games at quarterback for his football team.
He’ll get his first chance Saturday at back-to-back college starts when Northern Colorado plays at Big Sky Conference opponent Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.
Kuykendall was promoted from third string to starter last week against nationally ranked Idaho because of injuries to year-long starter Jacob Sirmon and backup Hank Gibbs. The last time Kuykendall started consecutive games was as a high school senior in Long Beach, California.
Kuykendall is from nearby San Pedro and played scholastic ball at Long Beach Poly. He came to UNC in 2022 and didn’t play last year. He didn’t play this season until coming in for one play at Montana, also a nationally ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Kuykendall said the rigors of college football kept him engaged in the sport’s work through his time of not playing. One feature of the game required some adjustment for him last week against Idaho.
“I was like, ‘Dang, I haven’t been hit in so long — what’s that going to feel like?’” he said of his Nov. 4 start against the Vandals. “Football is such a heavier load in college than in high school, so I never felt too out of touch.”
As the starter, Kuykendall is very much in touch with what’s happening on the field. He said the biggest difference between the starting quarterback and other guys in the quarterback room is the number of repetitions he receives at practice.
Backup quarterbacks work out, go to meetings and film sessions, and watch film on their own, same as the starters. Kuykendall estimated the commitment to football is 25 to 30 hours a week for most players with all of these factors considered. The majority of the physical repetitions are left for the starter because he’s the player who needs to know the plays and what’s going on with the offense. This leaves the backups to take mental reps, meaning going through the plays in their mind during practice.
“Yes, it’s going really good,” he said. “We’re detailing into Northern Arizona well and hoping to get our first win out there.”
UNC is 0-6 in the Big Sky Conference and 0-9 overall. Northern Arizona is 3-3 in the Big Sky and 3-6 overall. The Lumberjacks have wins this season over Montana — the Grizzlies’ only loss — and Weber State, two of the three common Big Sky opponents with UNC to this point in the season.
Montana and Weber State both defeated UNC. Northern Arizona lost to Sacramento State, which also defeated UNC. The Lumberjacks also lost to Portland State. Portland State visits Greeley for UNC’s season finale on Nov. 18.
UNC offensive coordinator Blair Peterson has said Kuykendall is a very smart player who processes a lot of information and does this quickly. Peterson this week also noted Kuykendall’s toughness against Idaho.
Kuykendall didn’t have lights-out numbers. He was 14 of 22 passing for 55 yards with a touchdown and a key late-game interception. But, in his first collegiate start, he gave UNC a chance to win the game, as Peterson said.
“He sat in the pocket, didn’t get super skittish after a couple of shots,” Peterson said. “Just sat in there and said, ‘Next play, here we go.’
“I mentioned a little last week. Love that kid. He’s awesome.”
Kuykendall, 19, is a sophomore academically. He’s studying exercise science, which includes a lot of kinesiology — the study of human movement and how it impacts the body’s health and well-being.
As a football player, Kuykendall is a redshirt freshman, which means he has three years of eligibility remaining after this season because he didn’t play last year. Kuykendall threw for 2,840 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Long Beach Poly High School in 2021.
Kuykendall started playing football when he was about 5 years old. His older brother Aidan also played, and Shea said his brother was amazing for him because of Aidan’s work ethic and interest in the game.
“He was always watching film and putting in extra hours,” Kuykendall said.
Aidan Kuykendall was a quarterback at Division III Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He graduated last year and is now the quarterbacks coach for the Bearcats.
Though Aidan is older, Shea started playing football before his brother. His inspiration to get into the game was not his own brother, but the Manning brothers — former NFL quarterbacks and now media personalities Peyton and Eli Manning.
Kuykendall read a book about the Mannings playing in their yard when he was a boy, and he realized he wanted to play football too. He was drawn to Eli Manning’s game and started watching New York Giants’ games when he had a chance.
“It’s something about him,” Kuykendall said.
Since Kuykendall was a junior in high school, he’s had the nickname “Shae Money.” It was originally given to him by a friend and high school teammate, Justin Blount. The name has grown with Kuykendall.
During COVID-19, while spending a lot of time at home and considering what to do with his time, Kuykendall began writing and making his own songs on a computer. He released a rap album last year titled “The Making of Money,” which refers to the making of himself and his growing up. He’s also released eight other singles.
“It’s a hobby and something I love to do when I have the time to do it,” he said. “I don’t think I’m half bad.”
He says the name Shae Money is now his artist name.
“For me, it’s a lot of personal experience,” he said of the songs. “It started out for me letting out my feelings. I needed to focus on songwriting and putting it out the right way.”
In September, Kuykendall became engaged to his longtime girlfriend. Cheridan Russell is a member of the UNC dance team. Kuykendall and Russell have known each other since they were kids. He said he explains that when anyone asks why he might be engaged at 19. They have not yet set a date for the wedding. It will be figured out after the season.
“We went to kindergarten together,” Kuykendall said. “We dated in elementary school, too. I’ve known her forever.”