Local Sports, Morgantown

Morgantown High’s McConnell turning heads at Division I level

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Morgantown punter/kicker John McConnell Jr. walks on the field, he has only one job. But sometimes, that job can feel like the toughest in the world.

When all eyes trained on you and the team is relying on you to add points to the scoreboard or pin an opposing offense against their own end zone, the pressure can be quite intense. McConnell just tries to stay composed, go through his routine, and keep a clear head.

“It’s definitely a pressure environment, but honestly I’ve gotten used to it,” said McConnell, who is going into his junior season. “It’s just another kick you have to hit, and if it turns out good, then you make sure the next one is too. You have to block things out, stay calm, and trust yourself.”

The pressure of the game gets easier to handle every day for McConnell and that’s happened in part because of his skill. McConnell is a five-star punting recruit, currently ranked first in the nation in the class of 2021 by Chris Sailer Kicking and fourth by Kohl’s Kicking, two of the top college recruit rankings for kicking specialists in the nation.

He has earned numerous opportunities to display his talent on a national stage and pursue coaching from some of the best kickers in the sport of football. In June, he spent a week in Orlando at the Hammer Kicking Academy Top 40 camp, where he competed with many athletes he’ll find himself fighting against to earn scholarships in the coming two years.

“It’s great going down there and getting that experience. There’s a big live feed that goes out to a lot of college coaches, and it’s great getting to compete against the other top guys in the country,” he said.

“I feel like I got better. You have to go ball-for-ball with these guys. You have to step up and compete. You learn how to deal with pressure. There’s a lot of people watching, and these are people who know what is going on. You feel like you really have to impress.”

For Morgantown High, McConnell has become the go-to kicking specialist, and is touted within the program for his ability to step on the field regardless of the situation and change the momentum of a game with just his kicking skill.

“A weapon like that — we use the term flipping field position — and he does that with his punting and his kickoffs,” Morgantown coach Matt Lacy said. “To have someone who you know can do that nearly every time is nice.

“We work on that every day. We do some sort of PAT or field goal scenario, and we stop what we do and let everyone gather around and get their eyes on him. Sometimes we’ll even put stipulations on his kicks. He has an ability no matter what the situation to perform at a high level.”

McConnell has yet to receive a scholarship offer, which typically comes later in the recruiting game for kicking specialists, but has been in communication with several Division I programs.

“That’s the tough thing about being a punter, there has only been one full scholarship given to a kid in my class,” McConnell said. “It’s a grind. I’m sure they’ll come, and there’s lots of college interest, but some schools just don’t know yet if they’ll have a scholarship to give.

“He’s just going into his junior year, and he’s going to be highly sought after with the leg talent he has,” Lacy said. “He’ll only continue to rise, and as a kicker he unfortunately won’t garner a lot of offers until his senior year, but seeing him be this highly rated and attending these events just speaks to his work ethic and skill.”