With Conor Kennelly kicking, Watertown football has enjoyed a leg up
Raiders head to Swampscott for MIAA Division 5 playoff game Saturday at noon
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The snap. The hold. The kick through the uprights. The easy jog back to the sideline. These are sights familiar to Watertown High football fans and players whenever senior kicker Conor Kennelly takes the field. He can be counted on as one of the most consistent kickers in the league, and has been playing at the varsity level since freshman year.
Head coach John Cacace described him as “the best [kicker] at Watertown High School in my 11 years [as head coach].”
It is ironic because Conor did not even plan to play football in high school. He only happened to be at Victory Field when the freshman football team held kicking tryouts in the fall of 2014.
As a kid, he played a season of Pop Warner (youth football), but quit halfway through. Despite this, he soon proved himself to be the best kicker on the team, as well as the best in the whole school. Coach Cacace quickly took notice of him and moved him up to the varsity lineup for the very first game. Kennelly hasn’t looked back since.
Being a football placekicker is often regarded as one of the most stressful positions on the field. Asked about how he copes with the pressure of making a big kick, Kennelly says he has a special strategy.
“Personally, I try to be as cocky as I can to myself… whether it’s a 20-yarder or a 50-yarder, I say, ‘I’ve hit this kick in practice 1,000 times and I can do it again.’ ”
This clearly has been working for the senior, who has offers from multiple colleges to continue football after high school. He has yet to commit to one school.
You can expect the ball to fly out of the back of the end zone for a touchback on the kickoffs from Kennelly almost every time, starting opposing teams deep in their own territory. Cacace noted that he was thankful for how Conor can “really change field position with his kickoffs and punts.”
Kennelly is also an excellent placekicker, once converting a field goal in a game from 48 yards out, which is thought to be a WHS record. Cacace said “he is a threat to score points from anywhere inside the 30-yard line,” which is a nightmare for opposing teams.
Kennelly’s consistency allows for many different scoring options as the Raiders drive down the field, a luxury that many other teams in the state do not have.
But that consistency is also the most difficult aspect of kicking for Kennelly.
“You don’t have to be the biggest kid or the strongest kid, but you have to hit the ball in the exact same place with the exact same timing every time, otherwise it will be a bad kick,” he said.
Even though placekicking is extremely difficult and special teams is an important aspect of the game, very often they get overlooked by fans in favor of flashy offense and defense. Kennelly, however, believes that “every coach knows how important special teams are in winning and losing games, so there is always an appreciation for the skill of the players.”
Indeed, on multiple occasions, the outcome of a WHS game has come down to a field goal attempt by Conor — and more often than not, he converts.
Growing up in Massachusetts with a successful professional team such as the New England Patriots to root for, Kennelly naturally has looked up to Stephen Gostkowski, the placekicker for the reigning Super Bowl champions. He says he most admires “the work he puts into [kicking] and the amount of time he takes to perfect his craft.”
Conor says he would like to be able to “put himself in situations where the game comes down to him,” and where he would be able to “go out there and hit those pressure kicks” just like Gostkowski does.
“What I take from him is that I know if you put in the work, you can be successful in what you want to achieve,” he said.
This Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, the sixth-seeded Raiders will match up against No. 3 Swampscott in the first round of the MIAA Division 5 North playoffs. The game will be played at noon in Swampscott.
With Swampscott coming in with an impressive record of 6-1, it will be a tough first game on the road for the struggling Raiders, who are 3-4 and have lost their last three games. In Watertown’s game at Wakefield on Oct. 20, the team lost on a last-second touchdown. However, Cacace is hopeful that Watertown can pull off the upset this weekend.
“Our team is prepared… we have a good game plan,” he said. “We will try to execute it the best we can.”
Kennelly echoed the sentiment of his coach.
“If we stay to the plan that our coach puts in place for us, and do everything he asks us to do and stay true to our assignments, then we have a chance to take away what they do well,” Kennelly said.
What Swampscott does well is scoring, putting up an average of 36 points a game to Watertown’s 28. The Raiders will be thankful for a weapon like Conor Kennelly come game day, as they look to match their opponents point for point. Despite this challenging matchup, Kennelly sees potential in this WHS team.
“Our record this year hasn’t been as good as past years, but we are an older group,” he said. “We have some kids who have played on the team for a few years, we have a lot of team chemistry, and we have a lot of players who have the capability to step up in big moments in playoff games.”
The Raiders have clearly put in the work all season. Now comes the time to prove their toughness. With a weapon like Conor Kennelly scoring points every game, it’s hard to bet against these Watertown Raiders in the playoffs any year.
–Oct. 27, 2017–
Nathan Follett is a longtime member of the Raider Times staff. Beginning in September 2018, he is serving as Sports Editor.