Vikings kicker puts his best foot forward
On the afternoon of Sept. 2, Portland State was threatening to post its football victory ever over Oregon State. The underdog Vikings would force overtime if they could make a 46-yard field goal on the final play of regulation in Corvallis.
Thus, the game was coming down to a redshirt freshman who:
• Had never played football until his senior year at Wilson High.
• Had never been in a college game.
• Had never attempted a field goal, in a high school or college game.
• Had never tried a field goal, even in practice, of longer than 40 yards.
• Has never had training at a football kicking camp or with a personal kicking coach.
• Is the son of the PSU women's basketball coach.
Graycen Kennedy grew up mostly in Ashland, where Lynn Kennedy was Southern Oregon University women's basketball coach from 2005-15.
After Lynn took the job at PSU in April 2015, Graycen and younger brother Parker, now a Wilson sophomore, made the move with him and their mom, Amy.
Graycen had played soccer with the Rogue Valley Timbers U-18 travel team. He was all-Midwestern League in that sport as a junior and was pondering some small-college offers. He played soccer as a senior for Wilson, but early in the fall sports season also learned that then-football coach Ken Duilio was looking for a kicker. The Trojans had lost both of their first two football games by one point, with their quarterback also serving as the kicker.
Graycen decided to give it a try.
"One day I went to pick up him at soccer practice and he was kicking footballs," Lynn says. "I was like, 'What is going on?'"
The next football game, the plan was to just have Graycen suit up, but he wound up going 4 for 4 on PATs in a seven-point win at Franklin.
Word quickly got to the Vikings football staff, and an assistant coach asked Lynn, "Has your son every thought about kicking in college? Do you mind if we call him?"
Graycen converted 38 of 42 PATs for Wilson and earned all-Portland Interscholastic League honors as a kicker. Months later, he decided to give up soccer and enroll at PSU, where he redshirted in football last season.
"It was tough, because soccer was his first love," Lynn says.
A 6-2, 180-pounder, Graycen says one of the big adjustments has been going from the "more laid-back" atmosphere of soccer to the intensity of major college football, where "you have to be on time to all the meetings." He's also now in a weight-lifting program designed to make his left (kicking) leg even stronger.
His father is very happy to have him with the Vikings, whose home opener is 2 p.m. Saturday at Providence Park against UC Davis.
"As a dad, I love having him here. I wouldn't trade it for anything," Lynn says. "I can watch practice every day and see how he's growing as a player and a person."
In this year's spring ball and training camp, Graycen was one of three new candidates battling to succeed graduated Vikings kicker Jonathan Gonzales. The starting jobs for the season opener at BYU went to true freshman Noah Brosio (PATs) from North Valley High in Grants Pass and true freshman Thomas Ciobanasiu (kickoffs) from Putnam High.
Kennedy wasn't picked to go with the team to BYU, where the Viks played well but lost 20-6.
The following week, at the last minute, the PSU coaches added him to the travel squad for the Oregon State game.
"I wasn't expecting anything. My mentality was to just have fun," Graycen says.
"We didn't think he'd get in the game," his dad says.
But Brosio missed both his extra-point tries (after going 0 for 1 at BYU), and in the final minute, the Vikings had a chance to drive for a winning touchdown or tying field goal.
On the sideline, PSU special teams coach Nick Whitworth asked Graycen, "If we get to the 25, is that good enough?" Graycen said yes.
The Vikings marched 53 yards to the Oregon State 29, down 35-32. Only three seconds remained.
Coach Bruce Barnum's first thought was to go for a touchdown. But he called a timeout to reconsider, then motioned for the kicking team.
During the timeout, Graycen had time for two hurried practice kicks into a net on the sideline.
In the stands at Reser Stadium, "I was hoping he would just be himself and not feel too much pressure," Lynn says.
OSU then called timeout, trying to rattle PSU's No. 59 (who was so new the Pac-12 Networks announcers at first didn't know his name, not having him on their roster sheets).
"The (OSU) timeout relaxed me," Graycen said. "I was pumped up, had a lot of energy."
The snap went to holder Nathan Hawthorne, a freshman from Columbia River High in Vancouver, Wash.
"He'd calmed my nerves down," Graycen says. "He told me, 'You got this.'"
With a field goal, the Vikings and Beavers would go to overtime.
The kick had the distance, but it sailed just wide right at the end.
As the fans piled out, Lynn was hoping his son wouldn't take the miss too hard.
"It was just a great feeling being out there. It felt like a dream," Graycen says. "It was close. It felt like a great kick. It had enough to be good from 55 (yards).
"I wasn't bummed at all. I think it was a confidence booster for me."
Lynn called Graycen and told him "I was proud of him and to keep his head up. The thing he kept talking about was his teammates and how much they came up to him and supported him."
Graycen says the pressure of kicking with a game on the line doesn't bother him. "I love the feeling of being out on the field to kick," he says.
The Kennedys didn't waste any time putting the miss past them, either.
The next day, Graycen and Lynn went to Stott Community Field, where the Vikings practice.
"We went out to the same spot — 46 yards, left hash, and kicked that same kick," Lynn says. "And he went 4 for 4. Every one was right down the middle."