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Lincoln QB sticks with the gridiron and a Pac-10 plan

Connor Kavanaugh goes for the camps and personal training - all for a college try
by: L.E. Baskow, Lincoln’s Connor Kavanaugh leads the cheers in a playoff game last season. The quarterback is focusing on football instead of basketball this summer.

It's a whole new ballgame for Connor Kavanaugh.

Last summer, Kavanaugh played only basketball, and traveled around the country for Amateur Athletic Union games. This summer, he's packing footballs. In the last three months, he has been to football camps or combines at USC, Stanford, Oregon State, Oregon, Idaho, Boise State and Washington.

After leading Lincoln High to the state championship game in December, the Cardinal quarterback, says he realizes that football is his ticket to a college scholarship ride.

'Last year, I was kind of on the fence,' he says. 'I wasn't too sure which way to go. My true love is basketball, and I was wondering how I could stop playing it.'

Then came Lincoln's unprecedented year on the gridiron -the Cardinals went undefeated till their 14-10 loss to Jesuit in the state final, and Kavanaugh led the state in passing as a junior.

'It was so much fun with all my teammates,' he says, 'and I decided that I had to really dedicate myself to football.'

Kavanaugh is working hard to get better, so that Lincoln can have another strong season and he will attract more attention from major college football scouts.

Portland State has offered him a scholarship, he says, but he hasn't given up on his dream of playing for a Pac-10 school.

More teams would coming knocking, except for one or two knocks on the 5-11, 174-pounder -his height and arm strength.

'I know how colleges love size. They love the 6-5 QBs,' he says. 'If I could work on my height, I definitely would. But I feel size is a little overrated. Like I heard one coach say, 'Better is better, not bigger is better.' '

Most quarterback prospects who are 6 feet or shorter have to be blessed with great speed to interest D-I coaches. Kavanaugh isn't fast - his 40-yard dash time is a so-so 4.8 seconds -but he manages to scramble out of trouble and pick up yardage, using his quickness, instincts and guts. 'I try to make a defender's speed work for me … make him go one way while I go another,' he says.

Kavanaugh has been working in the offseason at Velocity Sports Performance with renowned local trainer Matt James. Kavanaugh has changed his grip and throwing motion, keeping the ball higher so it can go faster and farther, and gotten stronger.

'It's really paid off,' he says. 'I feel like I'm twice the player I was last year.'

Lincoln will boast plenty of speed at wide receiver in PIL sprint champion Jordan Polk, Elvis Akpla, Terry Gamble and others. Gamble figures to replace Yale-bound John Sheffield at the Cardinals' versatile running-back spot. If Kavanaugh can zip the ball downfield, the Cards' wide-open, high-powered offense will be even more of a threat to move the chains or score in a hurry. 'Last year, I had a tendency to throw some lob passes on throws I should have put more on a line,' Kavanaugh says.

Vikings come knocking

With enough improvement, Kavanaugh could get more college offers. Older brother Taylor Kavanaugh, about 5-10, 180, is doing well at Oregon State as a walk-on, playing slot back, returning punts and making plays on punt teams. Connor Kavanaugh says he would consider a walk-on role at a top-notch program but would prefer to play on scholarship. 'I don't want to go to UW and sit on the bench for five years,' he says. Besides, he adds, 'free college is free college, and I want a good education, because I know I'm not going to play in the NFL for 10 years.'

He isn't sure what he will choose as a college major, 'but it would have to be something to do with sports … sports medicine or something like that … and I'd love to be a coach.'

Portland State has some appeal to him. 'I think it would be good to be the hometown kid and be in the downtown area,' he says. 'I could come home and get a home-cooked meal, too.'

But in the next breath, he ponders whether it would be more fun to get away from home. 'You only go to college for four years,' he says.

PSU coach Tim Walsh is trying to convince him that the urban school offers 'a good college life,' Kavanaugh says. 'He says he wants to walk me around campus and show me some things.'

Position switch isn't likely

A lot of Portlanders tell Kavanaugh he reminds them of former PSU quarterback Chris Crawford, the Vikings' MVP on offense in 1987 and '88, when coach Pokey Allen's teams were drawing good crowds and creating excitement and nearly won a couple of NCAA Division II championships.

'I met Chris Crawford at a camp when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and we're good friends,' Kavanaugh says.

Of course, since then Kavanaugh also has met coaches at other colleges, such as Boise State's first-year man, Chris Petersen.

One way or another, he intends to be a quarterback in college. Recruiters shouldn't bother asking him if he'd be willing to move to another position.

'BYU came to Lincoln last year and wanted me to play defensive back for them,' he says. 'I kind of gave them the feeling I was going to try to play quarterback, and I haven't heard from them since.'

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