It was the little moments that he missed with his dad that still stick with Courtney Love.
“Before he went to prison, we’d go play catch, play catch sometimes until 2 in the morning,” the Kentucky linebacker recalled of time spent when he was a boy with his father, who was incarcerated for two of those years. “Just playing catch in the house and the driveway, wherever.”
So as Courtney Love sat in an athletics leadership meeting this spring and listened to a speaker discuss an organization that pairs mentors with local kids whose parents are incarcerated, Love felt a strong tug.
“This is something I’ve got to do,” he told friends and teammates of working with the Amachi Central Kentucky organization.
By May, Love was paired with Antonio McKinney, an 8-year-old boy whose father had been in jail.
The two formed an instant bond that has been unbreakable ever since.
McKinney, along with his mom, Autumn Floyd, and his big sister, Auriana Campbell, were at Woodhill Park on Thursday night cheering as Love was surprised with a trophy for being named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Love, one of 22 college football players and one of just 11 Football Bowl Subdivision players named to the prestigious team, accepted the trophy from a local Allstate agent on a basketball court that was refurbished in the linebacker’s honor.
Allstate had the court in the Woodhill neighborhood re-lined and added new blue benches and goals to thank Love for his work with kids in the community.
After the reception, Love stood beaming with McKinney tucked quietly under his right arm.
Several UK teammates including tight end Greg Hart, quarterback Stephen Johnson, offensive lineman Nick Haynes, defensive lineman Naquez Pringle and former wideout Alexander Montgomery played around on the courts with kids in the neighborhood, too.
“He’s just gonna follow Courtney around over there,” Floyd said, smiling, as her son shadowed Love. “You can tell such a big difference with Antonio and his behavior and stuff since he met Courtney.”
Love takes Antonio out for meals, they go to the dog park and play games. When the UK player heard that his 8-year-old friend had gotten good behavior marks at school, he rewarded Antonio with two video games he’d been eyeing.
“We got along right away,” Antonio said quietly Thursday. “He’s like a big brother to me.”
Love sees so much of himself in the little boy.
When Love was in middle school, his father, Cory, went to prison for two years on drug conspiracy charges. Now the former U.S. Marine owns a successful industrial cleaning business in Youngstown, Ohio.
It was hard to be without his dad during that time in his life, Love said. So he tries hard to be a friend to Antonio when he needs one.
The Amachi organization asks for mentors to spend just an hour a week with their kids, but Love has become an active part of Antonio’s life even while balancing school and football.
“An hour’s not enough time,” the senior said. “A couple of hours is not enough time because I still want to be able to show him things a boy should do and know (when) becoming a young man.”
Initially, the goal was to find Antonio a mentor who could keep up with a busy, active boy, said Destini Engle, who paired the two for Amachi.
“He’s very energetic and he loves sports,” Engle said. “So it was important to find him someone who could be consistent with him. I wanted to find him someone who could be active with him and push him academically, socially.”
Sometimes those first meetings between a mentor and their new friend can be awkward and quiet. It was never that way with Love and Antonio.
“They talked the whole time,” Engle laughed. “They were basically best friends from the first seconds they met, which is pretty amazing.”
It helps that they have so much in common.
“It’s cool to see Courtney push for Antonio to respect his mom and be able to talk to him about his dad being in and out of jail and to talk about all of those things and to be able to say, ‘It’s OK. You can get through this,’” Engle said.
Love being willing to share his stories of overcoming adversity, including childhood asthma — a trait he shares with Antonio — has been huge.
“It makes him be able to relate to Antonio really well and I think something that’s really outstanding about Courtney is he’s not shy about his past,” Engle said.
Whether he knows it or not, Love has become a mentor to not just Antonio, but also to many of the other older kids in the after-school program.
Engle said of Love: “He’s amazing. He’s not in this for résumé building or anything. He just wants to make a difference and he really does.”