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Viking Quarterback Connor Kavanaugh: The Slingin' General
They call Connor Kavanaugh “the General…he’s our gun slinging General,” according to PSU Offensive Coordinator Bruce Barnum.
PSU’s junior starting quarterback this season (he earned the position against strong competition) got the “General” nickname because of his leadership. Barnum calls him a gun slinger because of his side-arm pass delivery.
“Connor brings leadership and toughness to the position. He has an ability to incorporate the elements of the Pistol and a good ability to make backside reads which is an important part of the Pistol offense. He’s efficient with that,” said Barnum, who is in his first year as the Viking’s offensive coordinator.
Barnum had the enviable task of choosing among former PSU starting quarterbacks Tygue Howland and Drew Hubel as well as Nick Green (who switched to defensive back), Justin Engstrom, and talented newcomers Chad Dashnaw and Josh Milhollin.
And Kavanaugh has delivered. He currently is the team’s second leading rusher with 499 yards and four touchdowns, and has completed 61% of his passes for 1,109 yards and six touchdowns.
His side-arm pass delivery has caused comment, but Barnum said “he’s producing when we need him to be. He can throw it behind his back for all I care as long as he’s getting it done. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Kavanaugh said his unusual (although not unheard of) delivery probably comes from his years playing baseball before he stepped onto the football field in the 4th grade.
Even though he was nine, he began playing on the 6th grade West Sylvan Youth Team because there wasn’t a fourth grade team at the time. He joined his brother Taylor (eventually an all-state receiver at Lincoln High School, and a four-year letterwinner at Oregon State) on the team.
It wasn’t much of a stretch because “I grew up playing football with him, our cousins and some of their friends in the back yard, so I knew people on that team.” He credits Taylor with being his inspiration.
Kavanaugh began his career as cornerback and wide receiver and changed to quarterback when he was in the 6th grade.
“Our quarterback wasn’t a very good passer and it wasn’t much fun playing wide receiver when the quarterback couldn’t pass. So, I thought I’d give it a try,” he recalled. There were no coaches telling him he had to throw more overhand, so he continued with a side-arm delivery, developed the muscle memory and became pretty accurate with it.
The disadvantage, he admits, is that he isn’t as good at throwing it over all the activity in front of him. Instead he uses the passing lanes more.
At Lincoln High School, Kavanaugh developed his running ability and finished his career there ranked 10th on the all-time state list for yardage. Besides school and conference honors, he was first-team all state and state Offensive Player of the Year, as well as MVP of the Les Schwab Bowl as a senior. Kavanaugh also was a National Football Foundation Oregon Chapter finalist for Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
While he said his 40-yard dash times aren’t going to turn a lot of heads, “I have game speed. I run a little faster in a game.”
Barnum agreed. “I think speed in the 40 is overrated. In our game, he’s faster than the people he needs to be faster than…and that’s all that matters.”
Kavanaugh’s early coaches felt he could become a good quarterback, “but not for my skills, more for my leadership and competitiveness. They thought that’s what would make me a good quarterback because I’m not going to be throwing a lot of 50-yard passes.”
He chose PSU over Idaho, largely due to Lincoln Head Coach Chad Carlson, who was friends with then PSU Head Coach Tim Walsh. He thought about going a long way away for school but, “to be honest, I can’t imagine a better situation for me”…and that extends to his long-time girlfriend, PSU women’s basketball standout Lexi Bishop from Spokane.
“I believe things happen for a reason. Lexi and I could have gone to a number of different schools but we ended up here,” he said.
As has been widely noted, there’s a different atmosphere around PSU football under new head coach Nigel Burton and Kavanaugh thinks it has benefited the whole team.
“We’re a lot more confident and that has made us successful. We’re playing better this year with a lot of the same guys and the coaching staff does a really good job of preparing us for each game,” he said. (He also thought that physical contact during practice—non-existent during the Jerry Glanville years—has made people tougher and has helped prevent the long string of injuries which plagued the team his first three years.)
Kavanaugh’s highlight so far at PSU has been “meeting all the good guys on the team. The stuff on the field is nice, but the chance to meet everyone and enjoy the diversity of PSU gives me a little better idea about what’s going on in the real world. Can you imagine that at a place like Idaho?.”
Football satisfaction doesn’t come from his personal exploits. “It’s not the touchdowns or things I do, it’s when I see guys smiling and having fun…after a touchdown seeing the smiles and the high fives.”
And while he’s “on top of the world right now, that’s when you’ve got to be careful because that’s when you can fall off. A successful quarterback needs to be humble. You need to talk about the whole team. If it’s all about me, then things fall apart.”
“Connor Kavanaugh wants to win. He doesn’t care who’s doing it. He wants PSU football to win the Big Sky championship. I don’t think he’d even care if he weren’t on the field as long as we were winning,” said Barnum.
Kavanaugh is carrying a 3.2 gpa in real estate financing (dad Dan is in construction management and suggested the major) but he’s got a little more playing to do before he’s ready to settle into a career.
He plays the acoustic guitar and concert ukulele and writes music which he sees remaining a hobby (you can see some his performances by searching him on YouTube). “I’ve been so busy this last year, I haven’t had time. But when the season ends, I’ll get back to it,” he said. It provides “a peaceful island away from the violent world of football.” Kavanaugh also likes historical fiction and just finished “1776” by David McCullough, about events during the US Revolutionary War.
After college, he wants to travel, and will consider an advanced degree. For now though, “I’m having a great time and I want to graduate in four years. But I’m having so much fun that I want to stay here as long as I can.”
And who can blame the Vikings’ gun slinging General?
By John Wykoff for Portland State Athletics Media Relations