Kinney made his debut for the Mountaineers during Saturday's 26-11 victory against Missouri, booming his first collegiate punt 46 yards. Problem was, it was just 140 seconds into the game, West Virginia having failed to convert after a second-and-one set-up inside Tiger territory.
It was a solid start, if not exactly what both Kinney and head coach Dana Holgorsen wanted. And then Kinney's punt sailed the 46 yards into the end zone, a nice show of leg strength, but a net of just 26 yards.
"That first one, that should have been a pooch, more of a pooch style," Holgorsen said. "Otherwise, pretty good."
Kinney punted five times, his longest a 53-yarder, and he was able to pin Missouri inside the 20 once. It was as quality an initial performance as the Morgantown native had hoped entering a sophomore season in which he had to beat out scholarship freshman Jonn Young for the starting spot. It served as motivation for Kinney, who admitted he lacked drive during the spring practice session.
"Jonn has really pushed me," Kinney said. "He's good at punting, place kicking and kickoff. He's really good. I didn't have that great of a spring and I think that was because I didn't have anybody behind me pushing me. Once he came in I picked it up and got down to business and got the form and technique down."
Which has led to the job being Kinney's - as long as he continues to earn it, according to special teams coach Mark Scott.
"It's difficult to emulate that, the first game, all the fans. But we really have to eliminate all that, those distractions, and focus in on what we are doing.“ Scott said. “It's Billy until there's a reason for it not to be Billy. That's the best way to say it. I was really happy with his performance. He kicked the ball well. The operation time was good. Location of the ball was good, though we can still get better in that phase and putting it more where we want to. I was happy with him.
"He's worked his butt off.” Scott added. “The mental aspect, he has become much more relaxed, much more confident and mentally tougher. The work during the spring, over the summer, the weight lifting, going out and kicking two, three, four times a week. He just looks so much more comfortable out there. That improves his operation time, improves his consistency and I think that's the biggest thing. He has improved on the mental side to where he feels confident and comfortable back there."
Kinney noted that he didn't truly recall specifics of the performance, and simply went through his progressions and placed the focus on form and technique, and not the game situation. That appears to be the approach of nearly every special teams player, and one proven over time.
"I can't really describe it because every time I went out there my mind went blank and I did what I had to do," Kinney said of his experience in WVU's season-opener. "Preparing for the games, I was nervous but not as nervous as I thought I'd be. I had a lot of time to prepare, so I just stuck to my form and technique and tried to focus in on hitting the ball right. After that first one I was perfectly fine."
Not that the pressure is off in week two. Kinney understands his job - like every other player - is subject to evaluation on a continual basis. But that's fine for a walk-on trying to earn both a permanent starting spot, and the perks that come with such a position.
"I was one of those kids," Kinney said of the state natives who grow up wanting to play for West Virginia. "After one of the games (Director of Player Personnel) Ryan Dorchester came up and said they really wanted me here and they'd love to have me. That's when it really hit me that I was getting an opportunity to play here. It's awesome because a lot of people I went to high school with and who I know from Morgantown come and watch the game. I have a lot of family who come and watch. It's nice to know a lot of people that come and watch the games."null