Kicking it Up a Notch

Penn State senior place-kicker hopes to help the Nittany Lions get a leg up on the Buckeyes this week.

To hear Joe Paterno tell it, Penn State's game Saturday at Ohio State could end up being decided by the swing of a leg. The kicking game, Paterno said, “will have a lot to do with the outcome of the game.”

That would be just fine with Kevin Kelly. The senior place-kicker would love to go down in Penn State lore as the guy whose clutch field goal vanquished a big-time opponent in a crucial game. Kelly did vanquish Florida State as a freshman, ending the Orange Bowl with a field goal in triple overtime. It was a moment that Penn State fans are likely to be talking about long after Kelly graduates. But why stop there?

“I definitely would like that opportunity again,” Kelly said. “This weekend could be a perfect opportunity. You never know what's going to happen, but that would definitely be a good thing. If people were talking about me 10 years from now, that's all I could ever want.”

It would be a fitting capstone to a remarkable career. With his 14 points against Michigan (three field goals and five extra points), Kelly became the Big Ten's all-time kick-scoring leader. He has 376 career kicking points, nine more than Minnesota's Dan Nystrom and Iowa's Nate Kaeding.

He's also on track to break the conference record for most career field goals. Kelly has 70 heading into this weekend's action, trailing only Ohio State's Mike Nugent with 72 and Nystrom with 71.

“I didn't really know about the points record. I do know about the field goal record that's within my reach,” Kelly said. “I feel good that I've been able to get the opportunities that I have, that my teammates and coaches have been able to put me in those positions. I feel real confident about being able to get this far. It's definitely not something I thought of when I came here.”

Kelly is enjoying a fine senior season, having made 12 of 14 field goal attempts and all 43 of his PATs. Averaging 9.9 points per game — he ranks second in the Big Ten and 14th in the country in overall scoring — he has been a big part of Penn State's season-long scoring binge. Said Paterno, “He's a fine kicker, and I think he's really feeling good about himself.”

One of Kelly's mentors is former Penn State kicker Craig Fayak. Kelly got to know Fayak while attending football camps at University Park before his junior and senior seasons at Neshaminy High in Langhorne, Pa.

Fayak is remembered by Penn State fans for his winning kick against then-No. 1 Notre Dame in 1990. He silenced a fierce crowd in South Bend in one of the biggest road victories of the Paterno era.

Kelly will be stepping into a similar maelstrom on Saturday. He said he's used to blocking out the noise and focusing on his kicking. But, he added, “there's nothing like going to Ohio State. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us as a team, but I think we'll be able to step up to it.”

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