MORGANTOWN — If you’re seeking one of WVU’s highest-rated pro prospects at his position, look no further than punter Billy Kinney.
You read correctly, Billy Kinney.
According to NFL Scout, which rates such prospects, Kinney is the nation’s No. 3 punting prospect for the 2019 draft.
“I’ve never seen that,” Kinney said when shown the website. “It’s pretty crazy. It’s awesome. Pretty cool.”
What’s even more “cool” is the Mountain State flavor of this season’s WVU punting battery.
Kinney, you see, is a University High graduate from Morgantown. His snapper, Nick Meadows, is from Williamstown. And kicker Mike Molina is from Hurricane.
“This is home to me,” Kinney said. “I take this really seriously. It’s home and I love it.”
“Williamstown is a small town near Parkersburg,” said Meadows. “It’s small, but they love football there. Every Friday night the whole town comes and watches football. It’s a really big deal.
“That’s why [playing at WVU] means a lot. Growing up I was a huge fan. It was my life. To able to come and play is a dream come true.”
Now the goal is to improve on 2016, although Kinney’s punting was one of WVU’s more steady special-teams areas. While the kickoff return coverage and punt return teams struggled mightily, Kinney averaged 41.2 yards a kick, No. 48 nationally.
That’s not bad considering the UHS grad hasn’t been kicking all that long.
“I started kicking my sophomore year,” he said. “I wanted to go to a kicking camp so I came here. The first year they didn’t notice me. Then I had a good junior year. I was [Class AAA] All-State. So I came to the camp and they started to recognize me. We stayed in contact after that.”
Meadows’ start was more traditional.
“When I was 11 or so in pee wee football, I was the center,” he said. “The coaches said, ‘If you’re snapping the ball to the quarterback, you’re snapping the ball to the punter too.’ I just picked it up and was pretty good and it started there.”
Kinney marvels at how Meadows has perfected his craft.
“He’s awesome,” Kinney said. “I couldn’t ask for a better snapper. He’s so perfect with everything. We’ll spend a half hour every day just on snapping. I’ll catch balls for him. He’s always working to get better. He’s working hard in the weight room.”
Meadows not only works hard, he makes changes if necessary.
“I’ve changed a little,” said the snapper. “I started looking through [the legs] on the punt snaps to increase my accuracy. I went to a camp in Wisconsin and they were really stressing it. I was a little hesitant at first because I’m used to bringing my head up before I snap punts, but I started looking through the whole time and my accuracy and consistency was there. It’s really helped me out a lot. My speed went down a little, but my accuracy is on point now.”
Kinney, meanwhile, is working on his directional kicks, placing the ball near the sidelines or deep near the goal line. What he’s trying to avoid is a tired leg. He said the WVU punters are on a “pitch count” of sorts.
“Yeah, we don’t want to tire out our legs in camp so we try to limit ourselves when warming up,” Kinney said. “Sometimes we have days off, but mostly we’ll just limit ourselves.”
Oh, and yes, he admits, making the NFL is an ambition.
“That’s the main goal,” Kinney said. “Obviously I want to get the job done here and help us win games. But, you know, at the end of my career here I definitely want to move on to the next level.”
Many in the Mountain State would certainly be cheering him on. As mentioned, WVU has Kinney as its punter and Hurricane’s Molina as its kicker. And then there’s Meadows, who also snaps on field goals.
From the state to Puskar Stadium.
“High school ball in Williamstown is single-A, the smallest division,” Meadows said. “At away games, the stands weren’t very full at all. And those were smaller stands.
“Here at WVU you have fans that travel to away games. Fans are filling up stadiums of 80,000 to 100,000. It’s crazy, but I try not to pay attention to it. I just block it out and focus on my job on fourth downs.”
So far, so good.