Miinnesota Vikings specialists very familiar with Kai Forbath

The Vikings welcomed kicker Kai Forbath Wednesday, which was a bittersweet moment for long snapper Kevin McDermott, saying goodbye to an old friend while welcoming a familiar face.

The process of the Minnesota Vikings officially moving on from kicker Blair Walsh was finalized Wednesday when new kicker Kai Forbath made his first appearance at Vikings practice.

Unlike other Vikings players who joined the team midway through the season as an outsider coming into the locker room – like running back Ronnie Hillman and offensive tackle Jake Long – Forbath comes to the Vikings with an innate familiarity with the two people he’s working with the closest – long snapper Kevin McDermott and punter Jeff Locke.

All three were teammates on the UCLA Bruins, so they are not only familiar with Forbath, but of his abilities as well.

“Jeff and I both know him from college,” McDermott said. “I never snapped for him in college because I was a walk-on tight end/tackling dummy at the time. But, he won the Lou Groza (Award, given annually to college football’s top kicker) and has been kicking successfully in the league for a number of years. We believe in his talents and we’re excited to have him here.”

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Their working closely together didn’t end when each of them went their separate ways on their own NFL journeys. UCLA keeps its doors open to former players to use their facilities for their offseason workouts – it never hurts to have a recruit come through and see former Bruins and current and former NFL players working out on campus.

But, little did any of them know two years ago that they would all be reunited on the same team, much less being thrown together at the midpoint of a season.

“It’s nice to have that familiarity, especially with a quick change like this,” McDermott said. “Jeff and Kai and I all work out at UCLA in the offseason together. A lot of guys go back and work out there who are alumni. We’re all familiar with each other and our routines, so I think it will be an easy transition.”

When it comes to Walsh, it’s a different story. When Walsh arrived in Minnesota, he was breaking up the three-man band that were the Vikings specialists – Ryan Longwell, Jeff Kluwe and Cullen Loeffler. He was the new guy who would eventually welcome Locke in when the team cut Kluwe, and McDermott when he was in a training camp battle with Loeffler – one of the most vested Vikings at the time.

Walsh may be gone, but he will never be forgotten by McDermott, who quickly built a bond that will go on longer after the bright lights of the NFL go dark.

“Blair is one of my best friends and he will be for the rest of my life,” McDermott said. “But this is a business and it’s not always a business that is kind. I’ve had it happen to me. I spent my rookie year in San Francisco and got let go on the final cuts before my second year. It’s vicious sometimes and it’s really hard to see people go. But he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere else and I believe that he’s going to be successful in the future. He’s just an unbelievable guy. I really have the utmost respect for him. I was able to talk to him yesterday – those conversations will remain private – but I consider him one of my closest friends.”

Since the Vikings rarely have competition in training camp for the punting and kicking jobs, Walsh was the only kicker McDermott ever snapped for while in Minnesota. Will it be different in terms of the timing that a snapper, holder and kicker need to be automatic?

He admitted that changing things midstream for something as regimented as kicking is in the NFL will be a vast departure, but the advantage familiarity brings will go a long way to offset having a change of kickers midstream.

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“I think the only thing is the lack of reps together,” McDermott said. “But that kind of is negated by the fact that this isn’t somebody that I’m meeting for the first time coming into the locker room. I was in school with him for three years. I never snapped to him in a game, but we would get reps all the time in practice when I was the backup snapper at UCLA. This is not going to be something where we’re working out a brand new rapport from scratch.”

McDermott wasn’t eulogizing Walsh. He knows better. He has seen the drive that he put into his craft and that, while he gets that, when a coaching staff and front office don’t have the needed confidence in a player, they move on from him.

Walsh may have to take the route so many other NFL players have done – moving on from their first home and finding a new home in another NFL city. Whenever there is a kicking need somewhere in the league, Walsh’s name will be on the top of the list and McDermott is confident that Walsh has a long NFL career waiting in front of him.

“I understand that this is a business and those decisions need to be made sometimes,” McDermott said. “But I think he believes in his ability and it will suit him well in the future.”


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