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Roger Brown's The State of Sports: Kennedy's time has come at UNH

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 13. 2017 10:33PM

The University of New Hampshire's Jake Kennedy, of Amherst, takes a moment during football media day in Durham last Thursday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

No one on the University of New Hampshire football roster has waited longer to become a full-time starter than senior Jake Kennedy, but it appears Kennedy’s wait is over.

Kennedy, a senior who played for Souhegan High School in Amherst, is expected to be UNH’s starting center when the Wildcats open the regular season with an Aug. 31 home game against Maine.

“It’s definitely been a learning curve and been a long time coming,” Kennedy said. “I’m focused on what I have to do my senior year to be the best player I can be.”

Kennedy was a tackle in high school, but has played primarily guard and center since arriving at UNH. He began playing some center near the end of his freshman year, and that became his No. 1 position last year. He said he learned a lot from former UNH center Tad McNeely, who was a senior last season.

Kennedy started one game in his first three seasons at UNH.

“Jake Kennedy is a good football player,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “Jake Kennedy’s problem is he’s had three or four good football players ahead of him. Every opportunity he had to take his shot, something’s come in the way. Had a hamstring pull. Had a contusion in the spring one year. Every time he was trying to take the next step Tad McNeely was there. Curtis Nealer was there. (Alexander) Morrill was there. Somebody was there.

“He’s got all the tools to do it, he’s just got to go do it for us.”

Kennedy will also serve as a team captain this season. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, and 317 pounds.

“The good thing for Jake is he had (former UNH center) Mike Coccia and Tad McNeely — All-American, Al-Conference guys — ahead of him, so he’s kind of seen how to practice and how to carry himself and the responsibility and the pressure we put on the center in our offense,” UNH offensive line coach Alex Miller said. “He was solid this spring.”

UNH graduated four offensive linemen last year who were multiple-year starters.

“We definitely graduated some really good guys, but, as everybody knows, it’s next guy up,” Kennedy said. “Those years are behind us. I think we got a lot better last spring, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. Guys need to step up, myself included.

“The UNH O line has always been a very dominant position, so we’re trying to keep that going.”

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THE National Federation of High Schools recently released participation numbers for the 2016-17 school year. Of particular note:

— The overall number of participants in high school sports increased for the 26th consecutive year.

— The number of girls participating in high school sports reached an all-time high of 3,400,297. The increase of 75, 971 from 2015-16 is the largest one-year jump since 2000-01. Competitive spirit had the largest increase among girls sports (18,712), followed by outdoor track and field (8,508), volleyball (8,470), soccer (6,810) and lacrosse (5,423).

— Seven of the top 10 boys sports had an increase in participants from 2015-16, led by soccer (9,912), outdoor track and field (9,003) and cross country (8,580). Overall participation for boys in 2016-17 was 4,563,238, an increase of 18,664 from the previous year.

— Participation in 11-player football was down 25,901 from the previous year, although the numbers in six- and eight-player football were up from the 2015-16 season. The overall number of participants in football (six, eight, nine and 11 player) in 2016-17 was 1,086,748, down 25,503 from 1,112,251 in the 2015-16 season.

— While the number of participants in high school football declined, the number of schools offering the sport increased by 52 schools in 11-player — from 14,047 to 14,099 — and by nine schools in six-, eight- and nine-player — from 1,349 to 1,358.

— Football remains the No. 1 participatory sport for boys at the high school level by a large margin. Track and field is second with 600,136 participants, followed by basketball (550,305), baseball (491,790) and soccer (450,234).

The 10 states that had the largest number of athletes competing in high school sports: Texas (834,558), California (800,364) New York (367,849), Illinois (341,387), Ohio (340,146), Pennsylvania (319,153), Florida (310,567), Michigan (295,647), New Jersey (283,655) and Minnesota (239,289).

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Saturday night’s preseason game between the Patriots and Texans will have added local interest.

Londonderry High School graduate Ryan Griffin, a tight end, is in his fifth season with the Texans. He caught one pass for 11 yards in Houston’s preseason opener, a 27-17 loss to Carolina. Griffin signed a three-year, $9 million deal in the offseason after he caught a career-high 50 passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Griffin has a new position coach this season as University of New Hampshire graduate John Perry now oversees the team’s wide receivers.

Perry served as UNH’s recruiting coordinator from 1997-98, was the offensive coordinator at Dartmouth from 1999 to 2004 and was the associate head coach and quarterbacks coach at UNH in 2007.

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