fellow linebacker Worrell Williams deftly scooped up the ball in one hop and headed for paydirt with a game-opening touchdown in the Bears victory over the Vols.
What happened after Williams’ touchdown jaunt caught a national TV audience and announcer Brent Musberger by surprise. You could almost hear Bill Murray’s voice as Carl Spackler –gopher-killer extraordinaire as he teed up his imaginary ball in Caddyshack:
“Cinderella story. Outta nowhere! It’s in the hole!”
Substitute Memorial Stadium for Augusta and you’ll have the opening day 2007 Cinderella story of its own: Jordan Kay.
Less than 20 minutes before game time, the Bears star kicker –senior Tom Schneider pulled up lame with a leg injury during warm-ups. And with that, not much more than a year removed from what could have easily been career-ending surgery, redshirt junior kicker Jordan Kay stepped in without fanfare and booted the first of six straight extra points as well as a field goal to put an exclamation point on the Bears quick start vs. Tennessee. Kay also had the honor of being presented with a game ball for the stellar work he put in during the crucial contest.
“I was really excited,” said Kay. “I’ve been waiting a few years for the opportunity to kick. Of course, I was concerned for Tom because it’s his senior year and Tom and I are very close.
“I had a few butterflies but nothing big. But during stretch lines, Coach Tedford came over and put his arm around me and said, ‘You know, I have all the faith in the world in you. You’re going to have a great game.’ After that, any nervousness went away and once I hit that first kick, everything was great.”
The Bears have a tradition of kickers that end up their careers with Cal on high notes, but usually only after being thrust into the limelight relatively early in their careers. Ryan Longwell, Mark Jensen, Tyler Frederickson and even current starter Tom Schneider all struggled early on as young kickers before finding their groove as time went on to become reliable kickers.
The shoe is on a different foot for Kay, as he’s had three seasons to integrate into the Bears kicking game and to learn from the successes and failures of players and coaches who have worked with him over the years. So when the time came to shine, even at an unexpected moment in front of a national TV audience in prime time, Kay was ready to go.
“Definitely being older, with the experience of being there for a few years was a huge aspect in being prepared for a situation like Saturday,” said Kay.
Kay is no stranger to adversity, having to endure two knee surgeries on his right knee during his junior year in high school, only to tear the ACL in his left leg playing cornerback his senior season.
The ACL injury came while Kay was talking scholarship possibilities with Michigan State and a few other schools and before he was approached by Cal. The timing was unfortunate though since he hadn’t yet signed and the possibility of a scholarship offer to a kicker with a serious leg injury was slight at best.
“After the injury, Cal had offered David Lonie a scholarship, but they approached me a couple weeks later and offered me a recruited walk-on slot. They were very supportive. They continued to send me letters after my injury and they told me they hoped I’d get healthy and that they thought I had a good future.”
After coming to Cal, eight months after surgery his knee was hurting in spring ball despite regular rehab. It turned out the graft put in during surgery was too big for his knee so Kay endured another arthroscopic surgery to shave down the graft. The procedure was successful and Kay has finally had the first full year of health and pain-free kicking since his sophomore year in high school.
“(Head trainer) Ryan Cobb and his staff have done an amazing job,” said Kay. “(Strength and conditioning) Coach K’s a great guy to work with, too –on and off the field.”
Not content to simply bide his time as a backup to Schneider as he finishes his career as a four year starter for the Bears, Kay goes all out in whatever he does. He’s spent years working with kicking instructors, from renowned kicking camp instructor Chris Sailor to former pro kicker Rob Pelfrey in Reno, refining his technique and building leg strength to be ready to take over at kicker for the Bears after Schneider’s departure.
Kay also excels in the weight room, with an impressive bench press of 350 as well as the classroom, with a team-high grade point average of 3.6 for the spring semester and third-highest GPA overall.
Kicking field goals and extra point, that 350 bench press likely won’t come in handy, but if Kay sees time on kickoffs or as a backup punter, an opposing returner just might be surprised what hits him.
“I work hard in the weight room,” said Kay, with a smile. “But I miss being out on the field now that I’m just a pussy kicker. Maybe I’ll have a chance to hit somebody on the field down the line.”
In the meantime, Kay will have his continued opportunity to shine as Schneider gives his injury a chance to heal in the next couple of weeks –an opportunity that will only help build the junior kicker’s confidence as he prepares to take over full-time next season.
Kay will likely have two full seasons to start if he earns the nod next fall, with two full years lost to injury. In cases like his, sixth seasons of eligibility are almost always granted by the NCAA.
“I wish Tom all the best in his recovery,” said Kay. “He’s a really close friend and he’s been helping me a lot in practice. He’s really put me under his wing. Anything technical that he sees in practice, he always helps me out and gives me advice.
“Even though we’ve competed over the years, he’s always been there for me and me for him and that won’t change, concluded Kay.”
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