By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

Ryan Kay did not like what he saw. As Dutchtown went through a drill during practice Wednesday, Kay saw teammates joke around after plays and display an unbefittingly jovial nature two days before the Bulldogs host a playoff game for the first time in school history.

Standing on the sideline, Kay kept his gaze on the field as he spoke to a nearby teammate.

"If we keep messing around like this, we're gonna lose Friday," Kay said. "And I'm not trying to lose Friday. I'm trying to do better than I did last Friday."

For Kay to improve on his performance from last Friday, he would have to kick more than five field goals as he did in the Bulldogs' 15-0 upset victory over Thomas County Central, which tied a state record. He would have to kick one longer than the 56-yarder he made, which was a personal best and broke the county record.

In short, he would have to have the greatest kicking performance in state history.

And yet, Kay's teammates and coaches wouldn't blink. They have watched the senior handle all kicking duties -- extra points, field goals, kickoffs and punts -- for three years. They have watched him pin opponents and neutralize dangerous kickoff returners. They have watched him single handedly win games.

"I think it's one of those things where the kids expect it to happen," Dutchtown coach Jason Galt said. "He's been doing it for so long. I've told Ryan and I've told the players, once we cross the 40 then we're in field goal range. That's just the mentality the team has. We've gotten spoiled."

Kay came to the Bulldogs as a kicking specialist as a freshman. He grew up playing soccer, but was intrigued with kicking when he saw his older brother, Evan, kick for the first Dutchtown teams when the school opened in 2004.

He joined a youth football team as a sixth grader and kicked his first field goal.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," Kay said. "I thought it was going to be a struggle going from kicking a soccer ball to kicking a football."

Kay proved a quick learner. His first high school field goal couldn't have come more dramatically -- a 40-yarder with two seconds left to beat Lee County.

"That was nerve-wracking," Kay said. "I had already missed one that game. It came up short. I just knew the game was tied, so even if I missed we'd go into overtime. So I just drilled it."

Kay has turned into one of Dutchtown's biggest weapons ever since. Galt said his playcalling on offense is heavily influenced by the mere presence of Kay.

"Knowing I have Ryan, once we get inside the 40, our playcalling's a litte more conservative," Galt said. "If we can bust a long run and get a touchdown, great, but I know as long as we don't turn the ball over, as long as we get some positive yards, we get ourselves in good position to at least have a chance to get three points."

There's been misses, of course, like the 57-yarder he missed in the first quarter at Thomas County Central. But Kay has trained himself to have a short memory.

"My dad and everyone's told me you're only as good as your next kick," Kay said. "You've just got to shake it off and move on."

As good a field goal kicker as Kay has become, he's even more dangerous as a punter.

Kay is averaging 42 yards a punt on the season. Opponents have gained a total of 18 yards on punt returns. Kay said his average hangtime this season is between 4.2 and 4.8 seconds.

"When that ball leaves his foot it just explodes," Galt said.

"He'll probably go to college as a punter with the ability to place-kick."

Kay was invited to the Auburn-Georgia game last Saturday.

He names his top college choices as Auburn, Georgia and Troy.

And the thought of kicking before packed crowds at some of the South's premier college football venues excites Kay.

He said he often has his worst performances in front of small crowds.

"I just like the big crowds and everything. I just like the pressure," Kay said.

"People are here to see something. I try my best to give them whatever they came to see.

"We might not have our best game, but I try to have my best game for everyone."