PROSPER, Texas — Cade York was mad.
Accustomed to blasting kickoffs out of the back of the end zone, this particular one in Prosper High School’s Oct. 12 game against Dallas Jesuit fluttered short of the goal line.
York made a bee line for the kick returner.
“He came down the sideline, juked one guy and I came through the gap and went through his chest,” York said.
York went back to the sideline and found his special teams coach, Coby Richards.
“A guy missed the tackle, and (York) just lowers his head and runs the kid over,” Richards said. “He comes off the field and says, ‘Hey, Coach, did you see that hit?’ I was like, ‘Hell, yeah, I saw it. Don’t ever do it again. If you get hurt, we’re screwed.’ ”
Richards knows kickers as good as York, who in December signed his national letter of intent to play for LSU, are exceedingly hard to find. In the class of 2019, York is rated as the nation’s No. 1 kicker by Rivals, No. 2 by ESPN and Kohl's kicking camps and No. 4 by 247Sports.
But the Tigers need more than a big leg at the position. With All-American kicker Cole Tracy leaving after his one and only season at LSU — he was a graduate transfer from Assumption College in Massachusetts — the Tigers need a kicker who is not afraid of filling some exceptionally big cleats.
York said he is ready for the challenge.
“He definitely had an amazing year,” York said of Tracy. “That’s going to be hard to live up to. I know people will compare me to him. I want that. I want to do what I can to earn the job.”
York is right not to assume the job will be handed to him.
Though Tracy and fellow senior Jack Gonsoulin are gone, the Tigers return a pair of veteran kickers in rising junior Connor Culp and sophomore-to-be Avery Atkins. Culp was one of LSU’s kickers in 2017 before being beat out by Tracy. Atkins built a big reputation for having a big leg as the Tigers’ kickoff specialist in 2018, booming 71 of 78 kickoffs for touchbacks.
York’s size and strength have earned him a considerable reputation at Prosper High School, a Class 6A (the top class in Texas) school of about 3,500 students in a booming bedroom community about 36 miles north of downtown Dallas.
He achieved viral video status in January when he crushed a career-long 59-yard field goal during the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Florida, before rushing over with a bunch of his all-star teammates to claim his spot on an end zone throne reserved for the game’s big playmakers.
“In warmups the farthest I was hitting was from 57 yards,” York said. “With the adrenaline of the game, I knew I could probably hit it.
“My first field goal was like a 40-yarder and when I went to the sideline they said I should have gone to the throne,” York said. “I said, 'Next time.' It happened to be a better kick.”
Confidence in making the big kick is not something York lacks, according to Morgan Lineberry, a Dallas-based regional trainer with Kohl's.
"You have to have that if you're going to compete for an SEC starting job as a freshman," Lineberry said. "He's his own biggest critic, too. He's got that perfectionist personality that most kicking specialists have."
Richards said York’s strength and conditioning work put the 6-foot-1, 182-pound recruit on par with many of his teammates.
“He works out as much as the other guys,” Richards said. “Him doing so has made him a strong kicker. There aren’t many kickers who can power clean 250 (pounds) and squat 350.”
“Three seventy-five,” York corrected.
“Three seventy-five,” Richards said. “He’s on our record board. We’ve got our 250 power-clean board and our elite board. He’s the only kicker I’ve ever coached in 15 years who got on the board. There’s a reason he kicks it out the back of the end zone every time.
“He probably could play safety for us if he wanted to.”
Of course, if leg strength were the only desired attribute for a kicker, then Atkins would likely have beaten Tracy out last season. Accuracy is also an issue and at that York also excelled last season, connecting on 9 of 11 field goals with a long of 47.
York said he made the most of his chances to be around Tracy and not only observe his technique but pick his brain.
“On my official visit Cole was my host,” York said. “I definitely learned a lot from him. He has a strong mindset as a kicker. He might not hit it further than everyone, but no matter what he’s hitting the ball straight. I wanted to learn from his mentality to stay mentally tough and make the next one.”
York can punt as well, averaging more than 48 yards per attempt as a senior. But the focus for now is being the next place-kicker for LSU, the chance to replace Tracy on that throne as the one who makes that next game-winning kick.
The only issue for York, aside from the competition, may be that both his parents went to Texas A&M.
“Obviously it’s always a joke about a split house,” York said. “But they’re excited for me. They love LSU. Hopefully they’ll cheer for me.”
Of that there is no doubt. Now York just has to give his folks, and LSU fans everywhere, something to cheer about.
Richards is sure he will.
“He’ll be in the NFL one day,” he said.
If not, Richards said, it will his turn to be mad.