YSU’s Kennedy eying a bounce back year


By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Zak Kennedy wanted harder practices and his wish has been granted this fall.

At the end of every Youngstown State football practice, the field goal unit lines up with the entire roster and coaching staff yelling at them. It’s pretend football, but the stakes are real. A miss could mean the team has to perform additional drills as punishment.

“I was talking a couple of our coaches about it. When we do our field goal sessions in practice, it’s just second nature to me now. It’s really comfortable,” Kennedy said. “We needed something to get me out of my comfort zone a little bit and act more like a game-time situation.”

The Cardinal Mooney graduate enters his senior season as one of a small number of four-year Penguins starters and is coming off of his worst season to date. In an injury-marred 2017, he was 8 for 13 on field goals with his longest make coming in at 36 yards — 10 yards shorter than the previous season.

“I don’t want to blame my injury for what happened, but I couldn’t get enough reps with my snapper [Steven Wethli] because I need to lay back,” Kennedy said. “As the weeks went on, I started doing better, but it definitely held me back as far as getting reps in.”

He isn’t too concerned about his job security and both head coach Bo Pelini and special teams coordinator Ron Stoops consider him the starter even with freshman Grant Gonya and sophomore Colin Burdette (Hubbard) on the roster.

“He’s our guy. I think he’s recovered from what was ailing him,” Stoops said. “He’s had a good summer and camp and we’re excited.”

Bouncing back from a down season isn’t Kennedy’s first go with adversity. During his freshman season, he didn’t get along with his long snapper, Wethli. Neither player could explain the source of the acrimony, just that they came from similar backgrounds as sons of firemen and that they’re both from military families.

“It was anything and everything,” Wethli said of their freshman year fights. “Out of practice. In practice. It’s weird to explain because as much issues as we had, we broke records that year.”

The pair were roommates last year and Kennedy is now a fan of Wethli’s work.

“We just became close,” Kennedy said of fixing the relationship.

The rest of the Missouri Valley Football Conference appreciates Wethli’s work too, as he made the all-preseason team this fall. In three years, he’s only had two bad snaps, but one of his most memorable snaps was one that didn’t make the stat sheet.

“My holders have saved me. [Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo] made me apologize to Tanner Garry in South Dakota during my freshman year because I put it on the ground and he scooped it up,” Wethli said. “It was a perfect hold. He was cool about it and accepted it. He was doing his job when I didn’t quite do mine.”

Wethli is eyeing the NFL when his college career is over. In 2018, he, Kennedy and holder Kyle Hegedus look to do one of football’s thankless jobs.

“When it goes good, it goes good and nobody really notices it,” Wethli said.

INJURY UPDATES

Quarterback Nathan Mays and defensive end Ma’Lik Richmond sat out Thursday’s practice with foot injuries. Both were spotted wearing walking boots.

Pelini said Mays is day-to-day with soreness and Richmond was resting because he received a cortisone injection on Thursday. Cortisone shots are used to relieve pain and inflammations in joints.

Mays’ absence allowed for more reps for Montgomery VanGorder and Joe Craycraft at QB. At defensive end, there were more reps for redshirt freshman Antoine Cook and converted linebacker Tyler Sims, who picked up a sack Thursday.

“He’s a third-down rusher. That’s what he is and he can help us in that regard,” Pelini said. “He’s embraced that role and he’s doing well.”

Tight end Kierre Hawkins is expected to start running again next week after suffering a knee injury last week.

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