Mark Story

A retired jersey for a kicker? Here’s why UK should do it for Austin MacGinnis

Kentucky place-kicker Austin MacGinnis, No. 99, celebrated his game-winning 47-yard field goal in the final seconds that upset No. 11 Louisville 41-38 last season.
Kentucky place-kicker Austin MacGinnis, No. 99, celebrated his game-winning 47-yard field goal in the final seconds that upset No. 11 Louisville 41-38 last season. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

In its football history, the University of Kentucky has retired 45 jerseys. Not one of those recognizes a full-time kicker.

When the time is appropriate, UK should make Austin MacGinnis the first.

By gridiron standards, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound MacGinnis is not large. His impact on UK football, however, has been huge.

Just last weekend, in Kentucky’s tense 40-34 victory over Southeastern Conference foe Missouri, MacGinnis, a senior from Wedowee, Ala., boomed a 53-yard field goal with 9:30 left in the game that gave the Cats the lead for good.

Earlier in the game, MacGinnis (now 314 career points) had become Kentucky football’s all-time leading scorer, an extra point moving him past Lones Seiber (306 points).

“Just proud of him, so proud of him,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said of MacGinnis. “He’s meant a lot to our program.”

Whatever happens the rest of this season, MacGinnis is assured of leaving Lexington with a résumé worthy of honor.

Besides being Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer, MacGinnis also holds the UK career record for field goals (63).

He is also the single-season record holder for points (104 in 2014), field goals (21 in 2014) and consecutive field goals (nine in 2014).

The longest field goal ever made by a Kentucky Wildcat? It was MacGinnis, who boomed a 54-yarder against Tennessee in 2014.

More impressive than the records, MacGinnis has made long-distance kicks under game-deciding pressure that have had enormous impact on UK football.

Last season, his 51-yarder at the horn beat Mississippi State 40-38. His 47-yard kick with 12 seconds left provided the margin of victory in UK’s 41-38 upset of No. 11 Louisville and soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.

Those two kicks were the difference between Kentucky finishing 7-5 and with a bid to the TaxSlayer Bowl or 5-7 and without a postseason berth for the sixth straight year.

It may be too far to say those clutch field goals saved Stoops’ job. It may not be, either.

At the least, they prevented the 2016 season from ending with a divisive debate over whether Kentucky should have exercised what would have been a $12 million buyout of the head coach’s contract.

MacGinnis “is very important, as we all know, just with the pressure kicks he’s made,” Stoops said this season. “I have a lot of respect for Austin. He’s a tough guy and he’s been great under pressure.”

Since Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart started the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005, there has been a set criteria for retiring jerseys.

After an athlete (or coach) leaves Kentucky, there is a five-year waiting period before they are eligible for consideration to the UK Hall of Fame.

Ten years after an athlete (or coach) has departed Kentucky, they become eligible for a retired jersey if they have first been selected to the Hall of Fame.

According to UK, the committee that determines retired jerseys considers “athletic and academic accomplishment of the individual while at UK, as well as post-UK accomplishments and character.”

Though MacGinnis would be the first kicker, he would not be the first UK football player to earn a retired jersey primarily as a specialist. Punter Ralph Kercheval, who averaged 44.8 yards a kick over his career (1931-33), is already a member of UK’s ring of honor.

So are quarterback/punter/kicker George Blanda; tackle/kicker Bob Gain; and tackle/punter/kicker Lou Michaels, though that trio was honored more for their non-kicking roles.

On philosophical grounds, some will say a kicker just doesn’t log enough plays to be worthy of a retired jersey.

In this case, based on his rewriting the UK record book for his position and the impact his clutch kicks have had on the Kentucky football program, Austin MacGinnis deserves to be the first full-time kicker to have a Wildcats jersey retired at the appropriate time.

Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi State

4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21 (SEC)