Panthers’ Kasay more than just a kicker
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó John Kasay has avoided reporters all season, and Thursday was no exception.
“I just kick the ball,” the Carolina Panthers placekicker told a team spokesman in declining an interview request.
Kasay has been perfect in that job, going 14-for-14 on field goals this season to extend his streak to 19 straight dating to last season. Kasay, who turns 39 on Monday, is two field goals shy of passing Jan Stenerud for eighth place on the NFL’s all-time list.
But Kasay, the last original Panther, has many more roles. He’s a mentor, the go-to guy for advice, a spiritual leader, a team captain and a friend.
“He’s a guy that most of the players hold in high esteem as a player, and also as a family man,” receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. “He’s a guy that people feel they can get advice from about a variety of subjects.”
Perhaps Kasay’s calming influence and wisdom were never more important than early in training camp this year. Moments after Steve Smith broke teammate Ken Lucas’ nose with an ugly sucker punch during a break in practice, a remorseful Smith sought out Kasay. The two chatted for several minutes on an adjacent field before Smith headed for the locker room.
But according to punter Jason Baker, who holds for Kasay on field goals and extra points, that incident was just one of many times players turn to Kasay for guidance.
“There are probably 50 guys in the locker room who would say the same thing,” Baker said. “There are probably a few guys upstairs who would say the same thing, too. … He’s had more life experience than anybody in here.”
Kasay’s career is unusual for a kicker. The left-footer out of Georgia was not only drafted, but taken in the fourth round by Seattle in 1991. The expansion Panthers signed him in 1995 to be their first kicker, and he’s still here.
Kasay made the Pro Bowl in 1996 when the Panthers reached the NFC championship game. Muhammad was a rookie then and remembers how Kasay’s booming leg changed their outlook on offense.
“It was known that if we crossed the 50 we had three points,” Muhammad said.
Playing for three coaches in Carolina, Kasay has scored 1,220 points, kicked nine winning field goals and converted 103 straight PATs.
“He’s been very, very consistent in all the years I’ve been here going on seven,” coach John Fox said. “I can only remember one bad day, and that’s a pretty good accomplishment at this high level of competition in a lot of the pressure situations you’re in.”
Fox was referring to a game in 2003 when Kasay missed three field goals and an extra point ó leaving 10 points on the field in a 25-16 loss to Philadelphia.
Unlike Thursday, though, Kasay calmly answered questions then and took the blame. Kasay also kicked 22 consecutive field goals in 2003, a career high he’s three away from matching.
“It’s remarkable. He’s got as much respect in that locker room as probably anybody,” said Fox, who indicated he often seeks out Kasay to gauge the mood of the team. “I think it says a lot for him, not just on the field, but off the field.”
Kasay has had to overcome injuries to reach his 18th year in the NFL. He missed all of 2000 when he fractured his left kneecap in training camp. He missed all but two games in 2002 with a sports hernia.
Each time, Kasay came back and regained his job. He signed a contract extension in 2004, negotiating the deal without an agent.
“It’s like you find a kid who has a teddy bear or a security blanket, and you look and that’s what John is,” quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “So many people will say he’s a kicker, but he isn’t. What he’s been through, the injuries he’s been through, to come back and kick and do it as well as he’s done it is a tribute to him.”
Kasay’s age did show on kickoffs last season. He struggled to reach the end zone and the Panthers were allowing opponents good starting field position. Carolina decided to make a roster spot this season for kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd, and Kasay has thrived by focusing on just field goals and extra points.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much kickoffs and field goals affect you during the game, especially if you put some points on the board,” Lloyd said. “With John’s age, I think it has helped him, and I think he knows that.”
Baker insists Kasay has no idea he’s 13th on the NFL’s all-time scoring list with 1,561 points, or that his 35 field goals of 50 or more yards rank fourth in league history. Baker is certain Kasay will be calm as usual Sunday against Arizona.
“Sometimes after I’ll be like, ‘Wow that was a pretty big kick there’ or ‘that wind was pretty tough,’ ” Baker said. “And he’ll be like, ‘Good hold.’ That will be his response, always deferring.”
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