Whether it be college or professional, youth or high school, there is one thing all football games have in common. No passes can be thrown or tackles can be made without the magic ingredient, which means this Saturday when 12:30 rolls around, Linfield’s 97th football season begins with the same play as each prior year; the kickoff. As far as Josh Kay is concerned, everything will be business as usual.
Linfield is no stranger to standout kickers. In 2008, senior Scott Birkhofer was selected to the AFCA All-America team, completing perhaps the most impressive special teams career in Wildcats’ history. While Kay has work to do before reaching Birkhofer’s legendary status, he is walking the same path. Like Birkhofer, he was selected to the Northwest Conference first team as a junior, making 16 of 19 field goals and converting 55 of 56 extra point opportunities.
Kay’s career as a kicker began his junior year of high school, although it was preceded by nearly a decade of other sports. As is the case with many others, Kay is a soccer player-turned kicker and says that the switch to football came naturally for him. “It was a smooth transition for the most part and I was able to fit right into the kicking routine.” Kay felt he could contribute the most on the football field, and when his high school coaches told him he had a shot to play in college, he jumped on the opportunity.
After playing one season of football and golf at Whitworth University, Kay felt a disconnect between himself and the program. “The culture of the program didn’t quite fit with my work ethic and mindset,” Kay explained when asked why he decided to become a Wildcat.
Continuing with the theme of being the best he can be, Kay had a difficult decision to make prior to his junior year at Linfield. After being a stellar golfer throughout high school and playing a season as a Wildcat, Kay decided the only way to be truly focused on football and take his game to the next level was to make it a full-time commitment. While it was difficult for him to let go of a sport he had excelled in throughout his athletic career, Kay felt the sacrifice would pay off in the long run.
Aside from being the only player on the team permitted to kick the ball, several other aspects of the kicker position are unique from all others. For instance, while there are several different kicking plays in the playbook, the amount of material that must be memorized is far less than every other position on the team. When asked if this gap in terms of responsibility separated himself from the team at all, Kay explained there is more to his job than the few plays he has to memorize. “It’s not really difficult to fit in because the team is such a family.” He added, “I have found my role on the squad as more than a kicker and I help out to best facilitate practice in any way I can.”
About two-thirds of Kay’s regular practice is dedicated to an extensive individual conditioning routine, while the rest of the time is spent essentially as a utility man ready to help out whenever required. While it is a fact that there is simply not as much material for kickers to practice, in the eyes of his teammates Kay has always been looked upon highly. According to senior cornerback Ryan Miller, Kay is “a great teammate who is always at practice rooting guys on and who has a positive mindset.”
Kay credits coach Brandon Hazenberg with the mental aspect of his kicking game, saying “Coach Haze broke down all the mental barriers that were holding me back.” Kay appreciates Hazenberg’s devotion to special teams, which come on top of his duties coaching the secondary for the ‘Cats.
While coaches have helped to bring out some of Kay’s potential, part of his inner talent comes from his gene pool. “My grandpa was a three-sport athlete at Colorado State University and later became their head basketball coach,” Kay responded when asked about who influenced his athletic career. Kay keeps a picture of his grandpa in his locker to motivate himself to follow in his footsteps.
Because kicking is such a unique skill, the demand for kickers at levels beyond college is larger than many other positions. This being said, Kay has his sights set on a higher long-term goal, and feels a future as a kicker is within his grasp. “I want to kick professionally,” Kay said when asked what his hopes were beyond Linfield. He believes he has the attitude to take on the intense world of professional sports, and the support from those around him is overwhelming.
While his future is yet to be determined, one thing is for certain. Come game time each Saturday, for one split second when the leather on his right cleat explodes into the cowhide of a Wilson NCAA football, all eyes will be on Josh Kay as he displays the result of hard work, dedication, and the determination to be the best he can be.
-- Evan O'Kelly '13