By JOEL COLEMAN
Generously listed at 6-feet tall and 163-pounds, Westin Graves can easily blend into a crowd. The sophomore kicker can probably easily navigate the Mississippi State campus or go grocery shopping without having to satisfy autograph requests or take selfies with fans.
While Graves’ appearance might not be much different than your average 21-year-old, strap a helmet and pads on him and, so far this year, he’s been anything but typical.
Five times Graves has trotted on to the field for a field goal try this year. All five times, he’s drilled them. At Southern Miss in the season opener, Graves hit field goals of 38 and 37 yards. Against LSU, he nailed 43 and 24-yarders. Last week at Auburn, Graves delivered his longest field goal yet, a 44-yarder that sailed straight through the uprights with plenty of room to spare.
Extra points haven’t been a problem either as the Flowood native is perfect on 13 attempts.
Prior to the season, Graves was battling for his position against Devon Bell and Bryce Brown. Graves ultimately claimed primary kicking duties and continues to reward his coaches’ confidence.
“I knew that I was ready for this,” Graves said. “I’ve tried to prepare myself for it. Just going into it, I was a little anxious, a little nervous at first.
“Then, once the (first) game started, I was ready.”
Time and time again, Graves has proven he is indeed the man for the job with his success. Yet Mississippi State’s most memorable field goal this year might just be the one that Graves didn’t even kick.
Trailing 21-19 to LSU, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen turned to Bell for a 52-yarder that would have given the Bulldogs the win. Bell’s kick went wide as time expired and MSU fell for the only time so far this year.
Mullen’s decision wasn’t one based on a lack of faith in Graves. Ultimately, Mullen recognizes how sharp Graves has been, but felt the strong leg of Bell gave the Bulldogs the better chance.
“I think (Graves) is really hitting the ball pretty well,” Mullen said. “Regarding that field goal to finish the LSU game, I don’t want to say that he can’t do it because I know that he would take that as a great challenge. You’re still pushing the limits of the possibility. What we didn’t want was for it to be short. You don’t want to leave the birdie putt short. We wanted to make sure that the ball had the opportunity to get there.”
It wasn’t a shock to Graves that he didn’t get the call in that situation.
“It all happened real fast,” Graves recalled. “We got the (delay of game) penalty (before the attempt) and it moved us back, so I kind of knew. Coach Mullen had told me what he expected and thought my range was, so once we got the penalty I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be asked to hit that.”
Mullen noted earlier this week that Graves has been increasing the distance of his kicks in practice in recent days and has “done a good job with that.” So what happens the next time that Mississippi State needs a critical long-range field goal? Could Graves get the call?
“Anything long, like a 50-yarder, it’s all up to Coach Mullen on that,” Graves said. “But if he asks me to do it and I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well or the wind is at my back – there’s a lot of factors that goes into that – but if I feel like I can, I’m going to say ‘yes’. Unless I just don’t think I can or something, which hopefully doesn’t happen.”
Mullen is going to do what he can to put Graves in positions to be successful. At the kicking position, it’s critical to maintain the proper form to guide the ball through the uprights. With that in mind, Mullen doesn’t want to do anything to hinder the young man that could be his kicker for a couple of more years yet.
“He’s kicking the ball well and playing with a lot of consistency right now,” Mullen said. “I don’t want him to have to change his form and technique just to lose the confidence that he has. I want to keep that consistent.”
From short distance to long distance chances, it doesn’t matter to Graves. He’s just a guy with average stature looking to be anything but ordinary on the gridiron.
“If they call my name, I’m ready to be out there,” Graves said.