Former baseball player transitions to football

Junior kicker Kevin Henke attempts an extra point against West Georgia Oct. 1 at Braly Stadium. Henke scored the game winning extra point to put the Lions on top, 24-23.

Junior kicker Kevin Henke played an integral part in UNA’s dramatic win over No. 3 West Georgia Oct. 1 at Braly Stadium, kicking the game deciding extra point to put the Lions on top, 24-23.

But Henke’s journey to Florence and winning the starting kicker job for the Lions is not the usual path athletes take.

Henke hails from St. Charles, Missouri, a city a few miles northwest of St. Louis. Henke said he grew up admiring everything the St. Louis area had to offer.

“Growing up in St. Louis was awesome,” Henke said. “Probably my favorite things to do as a kid was to go to Cardinals, Blues and Rams games.”

Henke also enjoyed playing sports in middle school and high school such as basketball, baseball and soccer.

However, his small size in high school deterred him away from playing football he said.

“My freshman year in high school, I think I was maybe 5-foot-2 and probably 100 pounds,” Henke said.

Henke’s baseball skills were good enough for him to play baseball at the college level at St. Charles Community College.

He played baseball for one year at St. Charles before realizing his talent that led him to Florence; kicking field goals.

“I played soccer my whole life,” Henke said. “I was always the kid who was small, but I had a strong leg. So, after baseball season, I went up to the (football) field and hit a 60-yard field goal and thought maybe I should give this a try.”

Henke then looked for any opportunities to kick at the college level. His search led him to a kicking showcase in Arizona where he met former UNA kicker Kenny Spencer, Henke said.

UNA special teams coach Mike King said that Spencer liked what he saw in Henke and recommended him to the 25-year veteran coach.

“I got a call from (Spencer), and he said, ‘Coach, you have to get this guy.’” King said. “I told (Henke) that we didn’t have any scholarships available. But we got him to come to UNA, and he liked the town and campus so much that he decided to walk on.”

When Henke arrived at UNA in 2014, the starting kicker position belonged to then senior and former Indianapolis Colts signee Taylor Pontius.

“Being behind Pontius was one of the best things for me,” Henke said. “I probably wouldn’t be as good of a kicker as I am now without him because he was such a good kicker to watch and learn from.”

Henke not only had to transition to a sport he had never played before, but he also had to transition to a new area over 300 miles away from home.

“Being a kid from St. Louis and coming down south, there was a little bit of a difference,” Henke said. “But I embraced it. I like the culture down here. Everyone is nice, and I love it.”

Henke said he had no problems finding new friends and that he immediately felt like he belonged at UNA.

One of those friends is senior quarterback Jacob Tucker.

“I first met Kevin when he got here in 2014,” Tucker said. “I am real good friends with Taylor (Pontius), and so through that, Kevin and I became really close.”

Henke took over as the starting kicker after Pontius graduated following the 2014 season and became an instant impact during the 2015 season. He hit 18 field goals and 51 extra points during that season.

Henke has five field goals through four games this season, including a 49-yard field goal against Valdosta State.

UNA’s scheduled game at Florida Tech Oct. 8 was cancelled due to inclement weather from Hurricane Matthew.

Henke and the Lions are back in action Oct. 15 when they play Shorter in the annual homecoming game.