Champion senior competes against nation’s best kickers
CHAMPION — It’s an old sports cliche.
The term “next man up” is used all of the time, but in some circumstances, when an opportunity presents itself, it may lead to a journey that was unthinkable beforehand.
For Champion senior Keegan McDermott, playing special teams wasn’t always the end-all be-all goal. Not playing tackle football until 7th grade, McDermott grew up within the world of soccer, something he grew tired of by the time junior high concluded.
A surreal feeling of starting as a freshman for the Golden Flashes and an injury to the team’s kicker led to him taking over the reins at special teams midway through the season.
It has been an adventure since then that has allowed the Champion standout to rub shoulders with some of the nation’s best after receiving invitation and trip to the 2021 Kicking World National Showcase last weekend in Austin, Texas.
“I was kinda like, I got to go out there and do my thing,” McDermott remembers the first time he had to kick during a game. “I hadn’t kicked much at all honestly, we haven’t had a kicker that only kicks, and I was play running back and linebacker too, so I don’t take all the reps.
“I went out there, and just did what I did. It’s the mental game, it’s making sure you take your steps back, take your steps to the side, keep your eyes down, follow through, not swing as hard as you can, just go through the steps you know.”
Along with piling up 1,028 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns, McDermott also recorded 59 tackles, 16 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles this past fall for the Golden Flashes, all while kicking off, place kicking, and punting.
His magnum opus of the campaign was a career-long 50-yard field goal to force overtime at Crestview, but being a successful special teams player doesn’t happen overnight.
Grinding through camps such as the McFadden/Wilkins Specialist Football Camp at Youngstown State, along with making trips all around the state of Ohio, McDermott always took the opportunity to study his own game, all while playing basketball, baseball, and track.
Of course, frustration sometimes sets in during the development of any skill.
“It’s hard, I’ve been to the point where I’ve just shut it down and gone home,” he said. “It’s tough, especially with punting, you’re hitting a moving target, somedays I just had to shut it down and go home.
“It motivates me, sometimes I’ll go take a day, clear my head, take two days off if needed, go back and try to perfect it the next time, it might be the drop or how the ball is hitting my foot.”
For first-year head coach Tom Conrad, guys like McDermott made his transition easier, but also helped pave the way forward for the Golden Flashes football program.
“I really saw Keegan become a leader and I was really happy with the things he was doing when we had our pee-wee camp in July,” Conrad said. “Just to see the way that he interacted with the little kids, and the way that he just took the lead, and jumped out there and started doing what the coaches were doing.
“Just to see the reaction that that got from our pee-wee players, from our junior high players, was just like wow. This is a guy that we need to have to be a captain of our team, and be a leader on our team, but it also says too that he wasn’t a guy that was afraid to show up at practice and work out and do everything when it was hard. It’s easy to show up when it’s the first day or the second day, but it’s not easy to show up at 8:30 at night on a Thursday to get a lift in, he did those things.”
The 2021 Kicking World National Showcase was a two-day invitation only event, with practice on the first day, followed by a day of competition versus some of the nation’s best. A smaller camp over the summer led to his invitation, where McDermott credits much of his learning came from going into his senior season.
In a last man standing format, McDermott kept progressively moving up the tiers with better and better kicks within punt, kickoff, and field goal, with him being in the final three combined average scores with Bryce Soli (South Dakota native) and Michael Calton (4.5 star prospect from New Jersey).
Some of his marks include 44-yard, 4.4s hangtime, with the three aforementioned players finishing as the last trio standing. McDermott’s adventures as a special teams player have allowed him to meet such high-ranking high school players such as Robert Gunn III, a Clemson commit, and Cade Klubnik, the highest-ranking quarterback recruit in the class of 2022, another Clemson commit.
McDermott has also participated in camps at Ohio State, Kentucky, Wisconsin, with film being recently sent to Arkansas of the SEC by his kicking coach and owner of Kicking World, Brent Grablachoff.
“I met so many people, so many people that are going to be really good, some people that might be in the league in the future, it’s crazy, it’s awesome.” McDermott added.