New Pitt kicker Alex Kessman packs punch
Kurt Richardson has known Pitt kicker Alex Kessman for a long time.
Coached him in high school, made him the starting quarterback, safety, kicker and punter on the Clarkston (Mich.) football team that won two state championships.
Even consoled Kessman when he missed a kick. Taught him to keep his head up and soldier on to the next challenge.
Somehow, however, Richardson missed this little piece of information about one of the most successful Clarkston athletes in many years.
Kessman, 19, retired undefeated as a boxer.
“I didn't know until you told me this minute,” Richardson said Wednesday when contacted by the Tribune-Review. “That was probably a good thing.”
The first Pitt kicker since 2012 not named Chris Blewitt used to train with the Doers of God team at DOG gym in Clarkston three hours a night, Monday through Friday, from the age of 14 until he graduated from high school.
Pitt special teams coach Andre Powell tells people Kessman, a redshirt freshman, was a Golden Gloves boxer. Kessman just smiled when he heard that.
“He exaggerates,” he said. But in a low voice, Kessman admitted, “I was pretty good.”
“We fought nine times, and I was 9-0.”
To Kessman, boxing was more than a sport.
“That was my way of therapy,” he said. “I had some things going on in my family. I didn't want to talk to anybody. I didn't think that was going to help me.
“I was, I wouldn't say angry, but kind of lost.”
Boxing put him on a better path.
Now that he's a scholarship football player at Pitt, Kessman no longer boxes and doesn't plan to go back.
“I'm in a good place now. I'm in a real good place.”
But he admits, “I miss going to the gym every night with my boys. It was fun. That brotherhood was strong and it taught me, other than football, a lot about teamwork and the hustle of grinding every day.”
Richardson said he “struggled” with putting his kicker at risk by playing him at quarterback and safety.
“But he was too good an athlete just to kick,” Richardson said. “He threw such a good ball, and he was so tall and athletic (6-foot-3, 190 pounds).
“I'm not real sure he couldn't have played quarterback at the collegiate level. Probably not Division I, but somewhere.”
Richardson watched Kessman grow up over the years at Clarkston.
“When he first got to us, if he missed a kick, he would put his head down,” Richardson said. “We talked to him and told him, ‘You can't be putting your head down. You can't be doubting yourself.' He hit a couple long ones, and his confidence just took off.”
Kessman's longest field goal was from 57 yards — with no wind, he said — in the first game of his senior season. He said he has hit from 58 and 61 yards while warming up in Pitt's indoor facility.
He hit a 52-yarder at the end of Pitt's scrimmage last Saturday at Heinz Field.
Kessman was on the Pitt sideline last season when Blewitt's 48-yard field goal beat eventual national champion Clemson.
“I wanted it to be me, obviously,” Kessman said. “But I was so excited and happy for him. My heart was beating out of my chest.
“He hit that, and I might have been the most excited out of all of them. It was the same way as if I was hitting it. I look at it and say, ‘That could be me.' ”
Powell said he doesn't ratchet down his expectations for Kessman just because he's young and never has kicked in college.
“He doesn't get rattled,” Powell said. “We figured that out about him when we recruited him because of all of the other things that he did. We try to recruit good kids, and when they get their turn, they are expected to do what everybody else is expected to do.”
Kessman may get the chance to kick a winner sooner rather than later. In Blewitt's four seasons, Pitt played 27 of 52 games decided by eight points or fewer. He was 5 of 6 on winning field goals.
Under those circumstances, coach Pat Narduzzi made sure to put his new kicker on scholarship.
When Kessman got the news this spring, his first call was to his father, David Kessman. It might have been the one moment in his life better than kicking the winning field goal.
“I can't even explain it to you,” Kessman said. “I called my dad right away. He's one of my biggest supporters. He couldn't hold his emotion in. I don't see my dad cry a whole lot. But he was tearing up.
“It was such a cool moment. It was such a good day.”