Just for kicks: Walk-on fan becomes Bulldogs’ starter

Walk-on kicker Westin Graves led Mississippi State with 97 points this past season. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Walk-on kicker Westin Graves led Mississippi State with 97 points this past season. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Westin Graves wasn’t certain his football career would extend beyond Jackson Prep.

The kicker had several junior college and two Division II scholarship offers but had his heart set on attending Mississippi State like the rest of his family had done.

“My parents had money set aside for me to go to college and told me to do what I wanted,” Graves said. “I’ve always been a Mississippi State fan. My whole family has gone here and I love everything about this school. I hate Ole Miss and it was just born in me.”

So upon graduation in 2013, Graves enrolled at MSU as a civil engineering major and planned to cheer on his beloved Bulldogs from the stands.

However, Graves would ultimately decide to give football one last try to see if he could make the roster as a walk-on.

“I wasn’t recruited by a single coach here or any Division I coaches for that matter,” Graves said. “I tried out when I came here. I had to do my best to show them that I wasn’t just someone trying to be on the just to say they were.”

The 6-foot, 163-pounder not only made the team but also his debut in 2014. He appeared in four games making 4-of-5 extra points but missed his only field goal attempt from 40-yards.

This past fall, Graves made the transition from back-up to starter. He beat out Devon Bell during in a highly contested camp battle and served as the Bulldogs’ primary placekicker throughout the season.

“Devon and I had been going back and forth throughout camp and I had no idea going into Southern (Miss),” Graves said. “I think they let me know the night before the game that I was starting. It helped me not having to worry about going back and forth with somebody if I did miss one.”

Graves went on to convert 15 of his 18 field goal attempts as a sophomore with a long of 44-yards. He also led the team in scoring with 97 total points after booting 52 of 54 PATs as well.

“A big thing for me was getting that confidence,” Graves said. “I had to prove to myself that I can do it. When I was able to get some makes and had a good little streak going, that helped boost my confidence. I knew what I could do but I wanted to do it on the game field.”

Graves’ true range came into question during Week 2 when he was passed over in favor of Bell to kick the potential game-winning 52-yard field goal against LSU.

Although he feels comfortable with any kick inside of 50-yards, Graves was prepared to attempt that kick if his number had been called.

“I’m not a power kicker,” Graves said. “I’ve really worked to be more accurate and precise than to just get back there and try to kill it. That’s like playing golf, you don’t know where the heck that thing is going to go if you try and do that. Whether it’s a 20-yard field goal or a 55-yarder, I seriously try to go out there and do the exact same thing.”

Growing up, Graves never dreamed that he would someday don the same maroon and white jersey as his childhood heroes. But now that it has become a reality, he feels a sense of responsibility to reach out to kids that are in the same shoes he once was.

“I looked up to Mississippi State players when I was younger,” Graves said. “That’s been the toughest transition for me. I’m just an average, normal college student during the day then come to practice and kick. I don’t think of myself like those guys I used to look up to. But now there are kids looking at me and I try to treat them like I’d want a player to treat me when I was their age. I try to give back because God has blessed me beyond my imagination.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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