Sept. 1, 2008
This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Aug. 30, 2008.
By Tim Miguel, California Media Relations
If California placekicker Jordan Kay has to kick an important field goal in pouring rain and howling winds with a crucial game on the line, he can look back at how he got to this point in his career and realize - the hard part is already behind him.
A lot of Kay's time playing football has been spent recovering from countless knee injuries - four surgeries, two on each leg. The leg problems almost cost him a chance of playing football at the collegiate level, but Cal head coach Jeff Tedford and special teams coach Pete Alamar still saw potential in Kay. They allowed him to join the team as a walk on, while other schools recruiting him felt he was too much of a liability.
"You can't control what happens to you, but you make the best of it," Kay said. "The coaching staff here has been great, and the training staff and my teammates have all been very supportive. It's been a tough go, but having the makeup of the person I am and being surrounded by a great coaching staff, training staff and teammates, it gives you that incentive and mindset to perform and keep working hard."
Despite multiple surgeries to fix a condition which affected the blood supply to his right knee, Kay was being recruited by a number of Division I schools as a senior at Peninsula High School in Palos Verdes, Calif. Besides Cal, Oregon and Michigan State were among the colleges interested in offering scholarships to the high school All-American.
All that changed in the second to last game of his senior season. While playing at cornerback, a position at which he also excelled, one of his own linemen fell on Kay's leg, tearing the left ACL. Just like that, the scholarships were gone. Some schools remained interested in him as a walk-on, but they did not want to take a risk on a player who might not be 100 percent physically sound.
Luckily for Kay, the school that he wanted to attend the most was one of the teams that kept in touch with him.
"I ended up calling Coach Tedford and Coach Alamar, saying that I wanted to come and this is where I always wanted to be," Kay said. "They were the one school that really kept in contact with me. The other schools kind of left me in the dust. Everything happens for a reason. I'm happy I'm here, but it's been a rough go."
Even after donning the blue and gold, Kay was not out of the woods yet. After rehabbing through the 2004 season, he was not kicking his best and his leg did not feel right. After a painful 2005 season, Kay went to a doctor and found that his original ACL surgery needed to be corrected. The graft that was surgically implanted on his knee was too big, which was causing the pain.
In 2006, Kay sat on the bench behind standout kicker Tom Schneider, and 2007 looked to be more of the same. But 10 minutes before the kickoff of the season-opener against Tennessee, Kay found out he would be kicking off for the Bears. Schneider had injured his leg in pregame warm-ups.
"The first feeling is excitement," Kay said. "I never really felt scared in any way or lacked confidence. Of course I had some butterflies in my stomach. Coach Tedford came over to me before the game and told me that he had total confidence in me and I would do great. From then on, I put myself in that mentality and just got it done. It's a pretty great experience, coming in like that and doing well in the first game."
Any nerves Kay had heading into the game were likely settled when he successfully booted a 27-yard field goal in his first attempt. Not only a boost for his team, it was a personal victory for Kay who had endured so much and now had officially been welcomed to Division I college football.
After the 2008 season, Kay plans on filing for a sixth year of eligibility. Academically, he hopes to get an MBA or a masters in education and business. Kay said he wants to take advantage of the opportunity and learn as much as he can while at Cal. He's already learned to take advantage of every opportunity he gets to step out onto the gridiron.
"I'm really thankful for being at Cal and being a Golden Bear," Kay said. "I'd like to thank Coach Tedford, Coach Alamar and the rest of the coaching staff for still having faith in me, staying with me through those tough times in high school, keeping in contact with me and giving me the opportunity to walk on. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the coaching staff. I have the utmost respect for all those guys."