May 5, 2013: Signed as undrafted free agent by Carolina
Aug. 24, 2013: Waived by Carolina
— from Jordan Gay's NFL transactions log
Last weekend, Jordan Gay survived the Buffalo Bills' "final cut." Yet rather than elation, the ex-Centre College All-America punter faced continued uncertainty. He still wasn't assured of being on the active roster when the Bills open the NFL season Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
"When you are a young kicker in the NFL, every day is pretty much a tryout," said Jamey Gay, Jordan's father. "He told us he thought he would know by midweek whether he was going to make it to Chicago or not. By Tuesday, I was a nervous wreck."
Back in Danville, where Jamey works as Centre College's head athletic trainer and his wife, Rickie, toils in the school's alumni and development office, the anxiety built like a symphonic crescendo.
Finally, on Wednesday, Jamey's phone rang. Jordan didn't even really say hello.
"He just said, 'Dad, your tickets will be at will call,'" Jamey Gay said.
If you are searching for a feel-good story, one with a strong local twist, to pull you into the 2014 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills kickoff team is the place to look.
Unless something unexpected happens, when the Bills face the Bears at 1 p.m. at Soldier Field, Jordan Gay will be kicking off for Buffalo. When Gay, 24, puts foot to ball, Centre believes he will be the first alumnus of the school to play in a regular-season game at the highest level of pro football since 1940.
"I am pretty excited. I'm not really nervous," Jordan Gay said Friday from Buffalo. "Mostly, I'm just anxious to get out there and do what I know I can do."
Jan. 13, 2014: Signed as free agent by New York Giants
May 12, 2014: Waived by New York Giants
There may be more unlikely paths to playing in the National Football League than the one Jordan Gay has taken, but there cannot be many.
Growing up, Gay never gave playing pro football a passing thought. "My goal was to play soccer at the next level, to play in college," he said.
At Danville High School, Gay became a standout striker in soccer. Knee problems, however, eventually made the running required in that sport arduous. "My Dad sort of guided me into 'What about kicking a football?'" Gay said.
By the end of his high school days, Gay was spending Friday nights as the punter/place-kicker for the Danville Admirals. Rather than play soccer in college, Gay walked on the football team at Murray State in 2008 as a punter.
He lettered at MSU as a true freshman, but was unhappy. Gay came home to Danville, laid out of school for a year while working, then enrolled in Centre College.
"When he came back to Centre, he blossomed," Rickie Gay said.
In three seasons of football at Centre, Jordan Gay was named the conference special teams player of the year three times. He made five field goals in one game. He hit a school-record 53-yard field goal — against the wind. As a punter, Gay pinned 14 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line in 2011, then came back to average 44.8 yards a punt as a senior in 2012.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder even scored two touchdowns on fake kicks.
"He was a good athlete. He had the physical tools, he could have been a very good wide receiver for us," Centre Coach Andy Frye said. "But he was way too valuable to us as a kicker to risk that."
Frye was visiting a Tennessee Titans practice when the idea that Gay could go from non-scholarship NCAA Division III to the NFL became real to the coach.
"I just happened to wind up standing near their punter," Frye said. "I was struck by the sound — 'Boom!' — the ball made when it came off his foot. It just exploded, 'Boom!' I realized, 'That's the same sound the ball makes coming off Jordan's foot.'"
May 19, 2014: Signed as free agent by Carolina
Aug. 25, 2014: Waived by Carolina
Aug. 26, 2014: Claimed off waivers by Buffalo.
After Gay's Centre career ended, Frye said the kicker paid his way to a couple of NFL regional combines. He did well enough that the Carolina Panthers sent a coach to Danville to evaluate Gay. The team signed him, but the Panthers cut him before the 2013 season.
This preseason, Gay was back with Carolina only to again be waived. The next day, he was claimed by the Bills. He all but walked off the plane and directly into kicking in Buffalo's final preseason game against Detroit.
Did he even know one person on his team? "I introduced myself to the other specialists," Gay said. "That was it."
Two days later, Aug. 30, was the deadline when rosters had to be pared to the regular-season limit of 53 players.
In Danville, Jamey and Rickey Gay found that day excruciating.
"My husband gets updates about the NFL constantly," Rickie Gay said. "Like every 15 minutes, we were checking. We saw Buffalo had signed another punter (Colton Schmidt) and we were like, 'What does that mean for Jordan?'"
It turned out, Jordan made it through the weekend with a spot on the Buffalo roster. But it was this past Wednesday when Bills Coach Doug Marrone made it official that Buffalo would carry three kickers — a place-kicker (Dan Carpenter); a punter (Schmidt); and a kickoff specialist (Gay) — into the season's first game.
In Danville, Rickie Gay is still getting her head around the reality she is the mother of an NFL player. "It still seems surreal," she said Friday.
On Saturday night, Jamey Gay was to do a head trainer's duties for Centre's 7:30 p.m. football home opener with Hanover. Once his work was done, he would try to get to sleep.
The way Jamey had it figured, he and Rickie needed to be on the road by 4:30 Sunday morning to be certain they will be inside Solider Field by the Bills' 1 p.m. EDT kickoff with the Bears.
"When your son is an NFL kickoff specialist," Jamey Gay explained, "you've got to be there for the start of the game."