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LSU kicker Cade York (36) lines up before kicking a field goal in the first half against Auburn, Saturday, October 26, 2019, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

In the midst of a blowout win, one that merely provided relief after a disappointing season-opener, LSU showed its trust and confidence in sophomore kicker Cade York, an incumbent starter who had to fight for his job in preseason practice.

On fourth down from Vanderbilt’s 34-yard line, LSU sent in York for the longest field goal of his career. The Tigers led by two touchdowns, expected to score again and sat in that fuzzy territory too short for a punt and too long to leave the offense on the field. He had missed from the same distance once last year.

York trotted toward midfield. He lined up for the kick and paused. York exhaled, nodded at his holder and as the ball was snapped, took three steps forward. Vanderbilt had placed a returner underneath the crossbar. He turned around as the ball sailed over his head for a 53-yard field goal.

York later made a 31-yard attempt, and he hasn’t missed a kick heading into No. 17 LSU’s game Saturday morning against Missouri, providing the steady presence and consistency a team hopes to get from its kicker. So far this season, York is 4 for 4 on field goals and 9 for 9 on extra points. He has been one of the most reliable kickers in the Southeastern Conference.

“I think he's bigger and stronger and more confident,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “Last year he was a freshman, and it's hard for a freshman to come in the SEC and not be nervous. I think this time he has the steps down, he has the routine down and he's more comfortable.”

None of this was unexpected for York, who set an LSU record with 152 points scored last year, but Orgeron said during preseason practice LSU had “an open competition” at kicker, a somewhat surprising statement given York’s performance as a freshman.

Last year, York went 21 for 27 on field goals and 89 of 93 on extra points. The sheer volume, a byproduct of LSU’s record-setting offense, made him one of the most productive kickers in the country. He slumped briefly midseason, but York developed a repeatable mental cadence that steadied his kicks. He led the nation in point-after attempts (89) and finished second in scoring (152), setting SEC records in both categories.

“I learned a lot about my mental game and how to go out there with the best chance to make every kick and not be almost lackadaisical when I go out there and too confident,” York said before the Peach Bowl, “but also not scared and worrying about what's going to happen.”

York entered preseason practice as one of the few starters left from the national championship game, seemingly entrenched in his role, but Orgeron often says “The position is etched in sand.” Orgeron holds kickers accountable, just like every other player in LSU’s program. York had to make kicks.

Meanwhile, sophomore walk-on Preston Stafford, a graduate of Catholic High in Baton Rouge, pressed him throughout camp. At one recent practice, Stafford made about a 60-yard field goal, senior safety JaCoby Stevens said.

“He knocked the kick down like it was nothing,” Stevens said. “For a defense, we don't want that score, but at the end of the day, when you see your second-team kicker can hit a 60-yard field goal with ease and you know Cade can do that just as easy, you have a lot of confidence in that room.”

York held onto the job, though. He made two field goals against Mississippi State and two more against Vanderbilt, increasing LSU’s confidence in him.

The 53-yarder topped York’s previous career-high by 1 yard, but distance was never a concern. York once made a 59-yard field goal in a high school all-star game. He warms up from midfield logos. He said last year he can convert from 65 yards in the correct conditions.

LSU wanted to see consistency and accuracy. York has provided that, too. He has made a kick from every distance through two games, and he has looked automatic on extra points, building off his successful freshman year.

“I'm glad he's kicking well because Preston was right on his tail,” Orgeron said. “There was some competition in camp, and the young man we have right behind him is an excellent field goal kicker. I'm glad to see that Cade's doing well.”

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