Maine kicker Kenny Doak attempts a field goal as Derek Deoul holds the ball during the Black Bears’ spring football scrimmage in Orono Friday in May. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)
ORONO — Kenny Doak is discovering he has a lot of new friends these days.
“Yeah, I went to get a haircut the other day,” said Doak, a sophomore on the University of Maine football team. “And my barber was like, ‘Great job last week.’”
Doak has kicked game-winning field goals on the final play each of the last two weeks — a school record-tying 52-yarder to beat Villanova 13-10 and a 39-yarder to beat Rhode Island 38-36 — to help Maine remain tied for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“It feels good,” said Doak, 19. “Some kickers go their whole life without ever doing that. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to do it twice now.”
What Doak has accomplished is even more impressive given his travails a year ago.
Arriving at UMaine from Perkasie, Pennsylvania, on a partial scholarship, Doak lost his job as the Black Bears starting kicker after just two games. His missed extra-point kick in the fourth quarter was the difference in the Black Bears’ 24-23 season-opening loss at rival New Hampshire. He also missed two field goals in that game (one was blocked) and was 3-for-5 on field goal attempts and 7-for-10 in PAT kicks (two blocked) in his abbreviated freshman year.
“I had a lot of high stakes coming in and I wanted to do well off the bat,” Doak said. “It didn’t go well for a reason. I’m just here to make it better now.”
Henry Hunt, the athletic director at Central Bucks West High School, which Doak attended in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, isn’t surprised that Doak has rebounded.
“He’s a pretty resilient kid,” Hunt said. “The kids here are all gritty and determined. Failure to them is fuel for the fire — no matter what happens, we’re going to get over this.”
And that’s how Doak, a kinesiology major, took his demotion. He could have sulked. He could have used a hip injury as an excuse. But, Maine special teams coach Jared Keyte said, “He’s not going to complain, he’s just going to go about his work.”
“It definitely lit a fire under my butt,” Doak said of the demotion. “I’m a competitive kid and I don’t like to sit on the sidelines and watch other people do what I can do. I took it as an initiative to work really hard last offseason.”
First, he got himself healthy. Then he worked on being consistent in his fundamentals. He went to a kicking camp in Texas this summer to fine-tune his approach. And he worked on his mental approach with the help of his girlfriend, Jillian Flynn, a junior goalie on the Black Bears women’s ice hockey team.
The two met shortly after he had lost his starting role to Brandon Briggs last fall. Flynn said they didn’t talk much about football.
“I just knew he was on the team and wasn’t playing,” she said. “It wasn’t until a month or two later that he talked about it. … He’s hard on himself with everything. But with us talking about it, he was able to reflect on it and realize it happens, it’s OK. And then he started talking about next year.”
The one thing that the Maine coaches wanted him to know is that they hadn’t lost confidence in him.
“When you recruit a kicker a lot of it is on potential,” said Nick Charlton, who recruited Doak as a special-teams coach and now is UMaine’s offensive coordinator. “And we thought he had a lot of that.”
Doak, a five-star nationally ranked kicker by the prestigious Kohl’s Kicking Camp, wanted to prove himself. So did Flynn.
“I think we both have the physical talent,” said Flynn, who is from Presque Isle. “We both needed a lot of work on our mental game.”
The two created a mental checklist for each to follow as they approach a game. After each football practice they watch film together — “Me not knowing much about football, I’ll ask questions. I want to get him thinking about things,” said Flynn — and Flynn will even hold the ball for Doak so he can practice kicks.
“I do the cadence and everything,” she said. “We just need to find a snapper.”
And, because he played goalie for his ice hockey team in high school, Doak can offer advice to Flynn. But, she said, “It’s really just about focus and determination. He’s (kicked the ball) a million times before.”
During spring football and training camp, Doak would often talk to sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson, who had his own struggles his freshman year.
“If we mess up, everyone sees it,” Ferguson said. “I related to him a lot last year. We’ve talked a lot and it’s always been about just worrying about what you’re doing and moving on and learning from your mistakes. He put in a lot of work this offseason and it’s a tribute to him.”
Doak is 5-for-8 in field goal attempts this year, including two that were blocked. He is 13-for-15 in PAT kicks with one blocked.
Doak has worked endlessly with his snapper, sophomore Bryce Colee, and holder, junior Derek Deoul, to create a chemistry that extends off the field. They watch kicking highlight videos (yes, that’s a thing) and play the FIFA video game.
“We’ve done a lot creating that relationship so we can trust each other on the field,” Doak said.
And that’s important. Colee has to snap the ball just so. Deoul has to place it just so — “Pretty much straight up and down, a little tilt toward me,” he said.
Last Saturday, with 5 seconds remaining and Maine trailing Rhode Island 36-35, Deoul took his place to receive the snap from Colee and turned back to Doak.
“He had this little smirk on his face,” Deoul said. “He knew he was going to make that kick even before he took it.”
Maine kicker Kenny Doak practices kicking prior to the Black Bears’ spring football scrimmage in Orono Friday in May. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)