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Kavanaughs add family touch to Viks home turf

PSU QB, his father make a big impact on stadium, offense
by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY 
Portland State quarterback Connor Kavanaugh, scrambling in a game last season,  hopes to cap his football career with a productive season at Jeld-Wen Field, which his father, Dan, helped to renovate.

Nothing paints a portrait of the beauty and grace in sports more than the relationships it builds and strengthens. Bonds between family and friends are in the fibers of every game and last longer than any record of wins and losses.

So it is fitting that in his last year of football Portland State quarterback Connor Kavanaugh will play in a stadium that his father had a heavy hand in reshaping.

Dan Kavanaugh is general manager for Turner Construction Co., which won the contract to renovate Jeld-Wen Field. As he worked on the recent stadium renovations, prompted by the Portland Timbers' ascent to MLS, he constantly thought of the Viking football games it will be home to this season.

'It was always on my mind, the concept of being associated with that renovation and getting it prepped for the Vikings, not only Connor,' Dan Kavanaugh says. 'It does make it special. No question about it.'

With his father's connection to the stadium remodel, PSU often called on Connor Kavanaugh to assist in showing recruits around the place during the offseason.

'The coaches would call me so I could call my dad to get hooked up in the stadium,' Connor Kavanaugh says.

The QB from Lincoln High says 'it will be fun' to play in a stadium that his father helped change significantly. The 6-0, 185-pounder wants to make this season one filled with a lifetime of memories.

'This is my last season, no matter what happens,' he says. 'I'm not going to go play in Canada or play arena football. So I know that going into every practice and every game, it's winding down. It would be a shame if I didn't come to every practice and every game ready. This is it. This is the final season.'

The Vikings have lofty expectations for Kavanaugh, who was honorable mention all-Big Sky last season.

'What do I expect to see from Connor? Last year, plus more,' says offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bruce Barnum.

Kavanaugh missed the final three games of his junior season after breaking his left (throwing) hand against Eastern Washington.

'That just made me want to work hard in the offseason,' he says. 'Just to get back for the senior season and do the thing right.'

In eight games in 2010, Kavanaugh completed 93 of 154 passes for 1,109 yards and six touchdowns, with only three interceptions.

Vikings coach Nigel Burton says he has noticed a marked improvement in Kavanaugh's passing.

'His passing skills have really increased between last fall and the spring,' Burton says.

Kavanaugh says that spending extra time in the film room and throwing to receivers are behind the improvement.

'I don't know if my arm has gotten a lot stronger from last year,' he says. 'But I've become more confident in myself and more confident in the receivers, and that leads to crisper passing.'

The biggest part of Kavanaugh's game is his ability to leave the pocket and run. He might not be the fastest player on the field, but he has an uncanny ability to make defenders miss tackles. In 2010, he rushed 85 times for 506 yards.

'People will watch and be like, 'Wow, he is so fast on the field,' ' Kavanaugh says. 'But I'm not fast. I've just got a weird way of being slippery. I don't know exactly what I do or how I run, but it seems like there's times where guys just slide off, and I'm like, 'How did you miss me?' '

Just as important to the Vikings is Kavanaugh's ability to lead.

'He's an incredible leader,' fellow PSU quarterback Drew Hubel says. 'He just has that 'it' factor. You can see it, but you can't necessarily put it into words. He just knows how to get it done in tough situations and how to make guys around him play better.'

Kavanaugh has an edge over Hubel in the Vikings 'pistol' offense, which typically relies on a mobile quarterback. Kavanaugh says the competition with Hubel, who was out last season with an injury after passing for big numbers under previous coaches Jerry Glanville and Mouse Davis, makes him better.

'When there's a guy like Drew behind you, that makes you work hard every time you get on the field, because that guy is an unbelievable player,' Kavanaugh says.

Making friends

With the Vikings returning a deep group of receivers and senior running back Cory McCaffrey, Kavanaugh will have the luxury of relying on his teammates to make plays in 2011.

'If I just keep it simple and get the ball in the playmakers' hands, the sky is the limit,' Kavanaugh says. 'I don't need to go out and juke five guys and run for a touchdown. If I just control the offense and make sure everyone is doing the right things, we have a good chance of doing something great.'

When he played for Lincoln Kavanaugh had many gridiron battles against then-Jesuit center Adam Kleffner, now the starting center at Portland State. The two have become roommates and close friends.

Bonds built

'In high school, it was fun, and every now and then we'll throw in a little game film and laugh at each other,' Kleffner says. 'But it's great coming together.'

Building friendships like the one with Kleffner is what Kavanaugh says he has loved most about football.

'Being able to go out on Saturdays and play football with them and come to practice every day and hang out in the locker room and do all kinds of stuff, that makes it even more special,' he says.

Kavanaugh smiles when it is mentioned that the friendships won't end when the final whistle sounds on his career.

'That's a great point,' he says. 'I've probably made 10 or so of my best friends on this team in the last five years. In sports, when you go out to battle with somebody, you form a tight relationship that the average person in a business setting couldn't really form.'