As Hurricane Ida forced the Louisiana State University football team to scramble in the days preceding its 2021 season opener, Cade York found a way to keep kicking.
LSU had relocated to Houston a week before its road game against UCLA and held practices and meetings at the facilities of the NFL’s Texans.
York’s routine was threatened when former Tigers coach Ed Orgeron decided to cancel a practice and travel from Houston to Los Angeles a day earlier than originally scheduled.
York called then-LSU special teams coordinator Greg McMahon and insisted on working out. McMahon hung up, called Orgeron and made arrangements to take the specialists in a van to NRG Stadium, so York could stay sharp.
“That’s what makes him so good,” McMahon told the Beacon Journal by phone Sunday night. “He takes ownership of what he does.
“That’s what makes this guy rare. He knows what he has to do. Those elite guys, they’re like that.”
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York proceeded to make all five of his kicks that weekend against UCLA and went on to finish his three-year LSU career 54 of 66 on fields goals and 164 of 168 on extra points.
On Saturday, the Browns picked York in the fourth round (No. 124 overall) of the NFL Draft with the hope he’ll become the franchise’s first long-term kicker since it let the legendary Phil Dawson walk in free agency after the 2012 season . The Browns were desperate for an upgrade after Chase McLaughlin quarreled in the back half of last year.
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had several conversations with York this offseason. They watched film together in early March during the NFL Scouting Combine, and later in the pre-draft process, they met for dinner and a private workout.
But part of Priefer’s research also included picking the brain of McMahon, who coached special teams for the New Orleans Saints from 2006-16. They have known each other for about 30 years, said McMahon, who has an extensive history with Priefer’s father and another longtime coach, Chuck.
“When Mike called, I just told him, ‘Look, you’re family. This is this a business decision, and if I were going to go back to the NFL as a coordinator, I would draft [York]. Whatever it took to get this guy, I would draft this guy,’” said McMahon, the special teams coordinator of the USFL’s Houston Gamblers who spent the past four seasons in the same capacity at LSU.
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Cade York expected to ask Phil Dawson for tips on kicking in Cleveland
Although York is only 21 years old, McMahon explained the incoming rookie goes about his business like some of the best NFL kickers he’s coached.
“This guy’s got all the DNA you look for,” McMahon said. “He’s got work ethic. His leg is so dadgum strong. He’s got a really strong leg, and he’s a guy that can figure things out. If he misses a kick, he’ll go look at it, evaluate it and he’ll fix itself. I’m very biased, but I think it’s a heck of a pick.”
York has never met Dawson, but McMahon is convinced the two will hit it off. Priefer will undoubtedly have Dawson talk to York about the intricacies of kicking at FirstEnergy Stadium and handling the weather on the lakefront. Dawson mastered the wind patterns in the stadium during his days in Cleveland.
“He’ll learn,” McMahon said of York, “and he’ll know that stadium. I guarantee that.
“He’s very, very intelligent. He’s a straight-A student, and he’s [obsessed] with kicking.”
McMahon watched York absorb as much knowledge as he could from his predecessor at LSU, Cole Tracey, who finished his career after the 2018 season as the record holder for the most field goals in the history of college football with 97.
“He leaned on Cole to try to help him learn,” McMahon said. “So just knowing Cade, I could see him definitely reaching out [to Dawson] and gathering as much information as he can.
“He’s a problem solver. He figures things out. Whether he’s going to have a Phil Dawson career, I mean, that guy’s one of the greats of all time, in my opinion, but I think this kid’s plenty talented enough to be very productive and have a good career in Cleveland.”
Can Cade York have an immediate impact at an Evan McPherson level?
The AFC North is loaded with great kickers. And if the Browns are right about York’s potential, he’ll stack up well against the Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Chris Boswell and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Evan McPherson, who shined as a rookie last season en route to the Super Bowl.
“I’m a huge McPherson fan,” McMahon said. “I mean, how can you not be? Certainly, McPherson just had off-the-chart year. But I see Cade right there.”
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York and McPherson squared off on Dec. 12, 2020, when LSU prevailed 37-34 over Florida on the road. York made a game-winning 57-yard field goal — the longest in school history — through dense fog with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“Other than our players’ reaction, I couldn’t see the kick, so, hell, I didn’t know he’d made it till I saw those guys celebrating,” McMahon said. “When he kicked that sucker, from where we were ground level, I knew he had a good hit, and I saw it go over the line of scrimmage, so I knew it hadn’t been touched or anything, and I knew he hit the sweet spot. He’s got a strong leg, but to not be able to see the ball go through the uprights, I’ve never had that happen.
“It’s like, ‘Wow.’ When they showed the replay from the end zone, you could see the ball coming out of the fog and going through the uprights. It was awesome. And he put it right through the middle. He had room for it, too, now. I guarantee he could have made it farther, so it was just a sweet kick. That’s part of his legacy or history at LSU. He’ll always be able to come back and get free gumbo.”
There’s another reason York would receive a meal on the house. As a freshman, he helped the Tigers end the 2019 season 15-0 and winners of the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Cleveland Browns make Cade York highest-drafted kicker since Roberto Aguayo in 2016
York made 21-of-27 field goals and 89-of-93 extra points as a freshman, 18-of-21 field goals and 36-of-36 extra points as a sophomore and 15-of-18 field goals and 39- of-39 extra points as a junior. He was voted second-team All-SEC in all three seasons and a second-team All-American in 2020.
McMahon said York has “got some moxie about him,” and it’s been evident when he’s delivered in “some big-ass games.” He’s now the highest-drafted kicker since 2016, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Roberto Aguayo in the second round (No. 59 overall). Aguayo lasted just one season with the Bucs.
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The Browns are confident York will prove to be a wise bet.
General Manager Andrew Berry acknowledged Saturday the fourth round is earlier than kickers are typically drafted, but the organization thought there was a possibility York would not last until the club’s next pick in the fifth round. York was the only kicker drafted this year.
“I believe that I’m the best kicker in this draft because I have been able to make big kicks in big situations,” York said Saturday on Zoom. “I’ve been put out for a lot of long field goals in tough situations, and I still brought out good results.”
Cade York focused on improving his mental approach to kicking at LSU
York converted 15-of-19 field goals from 50-plus yards across his three collegiate seasons, giving him another LSU record.
On Saturday, director of player personnel Dan Saganey said York’s “mental makeup” appealed to the Browns in addition to his talent.
“That’s the biggest thing I changed in college my freshman year was improving that mental game,” said York, who grew up playing soccer and started football when he was 16 or 17 at Prosper High School in Texas. “It’s not definitely trying to eliminate pressure because one of my favorite quotes is ‘pressure is a privilege.’
“It’s just knowing that you’re going to have times when you feel pressure, but it’s making sure that your body can take over, you go back to muscle memory in those moments and your mind doesn’t take over. It’s just doing the best that you can in certain situations to have a certain thought process that allows your body to take over and you don’t start having a bunch of negative thoughts.”
Shutting out negativity is a strategy McMahon helped York deploy. McMahon explained York was too hard on himself when he would miss early in his career, so they worked on it.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, dude, you’re not going to make every kick. I’d like you to think you’re going to make every kick, but you can’t let your greatest strength become your greatest weakness, which is being competitive. There’s no such thing as perfection. You’ve just got to be really damn good,’” McMahon said. “So I think when he kind of bought into that, and on the occasion where he did miss a kick, he just put his boots back on and went to work.
“That’s something over the last three years, and I told Mike Priefer this, I saw that maturation as a kicker. I’ve seen him mature in that aspect. At the highest level, that’s important.”
The Browns are eager for York to continue to grow with them.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.