Kelly Likely to Get His Kicks as Rookie

Place-kicker Kevin Kelly could make sudden impact for the Nittany Lions in 2005.

The Penn State coaching staff expects the Class of 2005 to make an immediate impact on the program. But which true freshman will be the very first to contribute for the Nittany Lions next season?

All-Everything receiver Derrick Williams? Maybe. Lock-down corner Justin King? Perhaps. One of the many speedy return men in the class? Could be.

The best bet, however, is none of the above. With starting place-kicker Robbie Gould having graduated, incoming freshman Kevin Kelly is the odds-on favorite to claim the starting position. Even if he doesn't beat a group of returning walkons to win placement honors, he will almost certainly handle kickoff duties.

Which means if Penn State wins the toss in the Sept. 3 opener against South Florida, Kelly will likely be the first freshman to get his hands — make that foot — on the ball.

Mark Schmidt, who coached Kelly the past four seasons at Neshaminy High in Langhorne, Pa., said his former player is up to the challenge.

“Kevin’s got one of the hottest legs I’ve seen on a kicker,” Schmidt said. “The ball just jumps off his foot. He doesn’t get too high or too low. He doesn’t fit that head-case kicker mentality.”

Kelly is used to making a good first impression. In the summer of 2001, Schmidt was searching for a new place-kicker. Someone told him about a freshman who had been seen booming soccer balls around a local field. Schmidt checked him out and knew he had his man.

“But you had to be a starter to play varsity as a freshman,” Schmidt recalled. “He had to try out in front of our athletic director. She sat there like an NFL general manager, making him kick 15 field goals and kickoffs.

“The rest,” the coach added, “is history.”

Kelly had a 54-yard field goal as a freshman. As far as Schmidt knows, he was the first four-year starter in the history of the school. He also won first-team All-Conference honors four years running. Kelly scored at least one point in every game he played, registering 229 overall, and had a streak of 90 straight PATs without a miss.

Fifty of his 80 kickoffs went for touchbacks last season. He even had three tackles, one of them against rival Penn Ridge. Neshaminy had just scored what appeared to be the deciding touchdown, but the Penn Ridge return man found daylight on the ensuing kickoff.

“He got mad because he didn’t get the touchback,” Schmidt said. “The kid got it and broke it. Kevin hit the kid and knocked him out. He decleated him. I couldn’t even yell at him for the short kick. It was awesome.”

The coach said his former kicker may be small (5-foot-8, 175), but he packs a punch. Kelly squats 500 pounds and power cleans 260.

“He’s such a hardworking guy,” Schmidt said. “He’s determined about everything.”


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