PCHS football: Ward has made a science out of kicking
October 28, 2011
Keenan Ward is a kicker. He’s also a physics guru with a stellar grade-point average and a penchant for pressure-packed situations. Over the years he has learned to study the elements, figuring out the science behind sailing a football through the uprights.
Now a senior at Park City High School, Ward debunks the stereotype of the kicker as the outsider and soccer-first athlete.
"After three years on the team, I’ve got to consider myself a football player," he said.
How Ward came to be Park City’s starting kicker for each of the last three seasons is an eleventh-hour story that was almost never written.
"It was kind of a weird start," Ward explained. "I think I had just gotten home from a soccer practice and my friend Rufie Frost called me and said the team was looking for kickers."
In the summer prior to his sophomore year at Park City, Ward was just a soccer player. Ben Portwood, who kicked for the Miners from 2006 to 2008 and is ranked 11th by the Utah High School Activities Association sports record book with career extra points with 117, had just graduated and the Miners needed to fill that spot.
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Looking back on his decision to give kicking a shot, Ward laughs.
"It was a little bit intimidating, especially because it was my first year ever playing football," he said looking back on his first year kicking. "The entire atmosphere is different; it’s a lot more serious than soccer is."
He became the starting kicker on one of the more explosive offensive teams in Utah high school football history a week before the season started in 2009. He made 73 extra points that season, the fourth-highest total in Utah high-school football history. In his first year kicking, he didn’t even attempt a field goal.
"I guess the fact we scored so much was kind of a good thing for me," he said. "The PATs are not that difficult of field goals and they helped me get in kicking shape that way."
Ward has now 124 extra points to his name, good enough for eighth all-time in Utah high school football. And that’s not including last night’s first-round playoff game at Desert Hills in St. George.
Park City head coach Kai Smalley said, to his knowledge, Ward has missed just one field goal since he took over the coaching duties in 2010.
"Every time we’ve asked him to do it, he’s done it," Smalley said. "Any time we cross over the 50 (yard line), he’s suddenly standing right next to me."
Ward has scored 145 total points through three seasons as a high school varsity kicker. He has made six field goals so far this season, helping out a Miner offense that has been hit-and-miss at times. In Park City’s 55-23 victory at Uintah on Sept. 30, Ward nailed two 39-yard field goals in the second quarter.
"Whatever he does, he puts himself into it," Smalley said. "I’ve just been really impressed with him. (The players) trust him. I think that speaks volumes to his character and why he has confidence in what he does.
"In kicking, you can be the scapegoat or you can be the hero, but he’s always there. I think more than anything, he knows the motions he needs to go through. He’s done it a thousand times, and when he’s called on in a crucial situation, he’s not afraid."
In Park City’s wild 21-20 loss to Judge Memorial on Oct. 14, Ward executed a perfect onside kick with 50 seconds remaining and his team trailing by one point.
"That’s a lot up to chance," he said. "That one worked out really well. I tried to hit it into the ground so it’d pop up, but I hit it too hard and it actually hit my foot again; I thought I messed it up, but then I looked up and everybody was on the ground for it."
However last night’s playoff game turned out, the idea that the entire season can hinge on his right foot does creep into the back of his mind from time to time, Ward said Wednesday, but he worked on calming the nerves a long time ago.
"It’s really just keeping a level head," he said. "Honestly, a lot of times, it’s talking to my friends about something else. If I always worried about every little detail, I’d mess it up for sure."
Ward also doesn’t fit the scrawny-kicker stereotype, either. He stands 6-feet and a solid 180 pounds. So what does he think of when he’s called upon to make a tackle on a kickoff?
"I self-analyze a lot," he said. "I just realized I have to have no reservations."
Ward said he’s eager for his other love, soccer, to get underway in the spring, but also said he’s already making plans for the next level.
He said he’s looking at attending the University of Utah next fall and is interested in Honors College.
"I’m a big science guy," he said. "If all works out, maybe med school."
When asked if he’s given kicking at the next level any thought, he laughed.
"It depends," Ward said. "It just depends on what my academic workload looks like. It’s a full-time thing at the collegiate level."
As snow began to fall at Dozier Field Wednesday, Keenan Ward held a football, describing the ins and outs of kicking a football in inclement weather, saying that when the temperatures drop, the ball gets cold and more dense.
Spoken like a true physics buff.