OXFORD • Kicking a football is a lot cooler than Jack Tannehill once reckoned.
Baseball and soccer were his sports growing up. On the pitch, he had the strongest leg of any of his teammates, and that gave Tannehill’s father, Rhea, an idea.
Jack should become a football kicker.
“I was like, yeah, whatever, that’s not cool. I’m not going to do that,” Tannehill said. “I’m way too cool for that.”
Those feelings changed, and now the Oxford rising senior is one of the top high school kickers in the state. Over the past three seasons, he’s made 28 of 39 field goals (71.8%) and 92 of 93 point-after attempts.
Tannehill, an Ole Miss commit, helped Oxford win the Class 6A state championship last season. He made 13 of 18 field goal attempts, with a long of 48 yards, and had 41 touchbacks on kickoffs.
He’s also a strong punter, averaging 39.1 yards last season.
His dad was obviously onto something. It wasn’t until a soccer teammate decided to start kicking footballs that Tannehill became interested in the sport. He joined Oxford’s eighth grade team, and prior to his freshman season he attended his first kicking camp, at Memphis.
Tannehill won the field goal competition for the eighth-through-11th-grade group.
“I was like, huh, maybe I should take this serious,” he said.
And so he did. Tannehill began regularly attending camps, and he took lessons from former Lafayette kicker Ryan Holland. He is now coached by former Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit, who coached former Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich.
As a freshman, Tannehill handled field goals and extra points for Oxford’s varsity squad, and he made a strong first impression on coach Chris Cutcliffe.
“His talent was very evident,” Cutcliffe said, “but the thing that jumped out very quickly when you’re around him was the work ethic and how committed he was to really being great and not just accepting getting by on natural ability.”
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Tannehill models his kicking style after Charles Campbell, who will be a redshirt sophomore for Indiana this fall.
“He and I are the exact same height. Our hips are at the exact same place,” Tannehill said. “I really model myself after him, because his swing should be almost identical to mine because of his height and leg length.”
Of course, kicking is about more than leg strength and technique. Tannehill has watched sports psychology webinars and has a coach to help him with mental focus. That work has clearly paid off.
Two years ago, Tannehill drilled a 27-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to beat rival Lafayette. Last season, in a second-round playoff game versus South Panola, he made a 37-yard field goal with 1:19 left to ice a 17-7 win.
“It doesn’t matter how physically ready you are, if you can’t be ready in the heat of the moment, then what good is it training physically?” Tannehill said.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed Tannehill down. Spring football was canceled, and teams are not allowed to gather for any reason. But Tannehill has been working on his own, getting in reps at the Oxford Lafayette SportsPlex, which has a field with uprights.
He kicks two to three times a week and is often accompanied by his holder or his dad.
“Going and kicking by myself is therapeutic for me because that’s just what I love to do,” Tannehill said. “I’ve done it so much now that it’s just second hand.”
Punting didn’t come as naturally to Tannehill as kicking, but he’s worked hard at it. He employs the rollout rugby style, and it’s proved effective. Of his 51 punts last season, 19 were downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Cutcliffe said Tannehill’s work ethic is why he’s one of the team’s leaders – a role not typically held by kickers.
“He takes pride in what he does, and I think everybody sees that,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s definitely something you can point to as a great example of how to go about your business.”
If he keeps it up, Tannehill might become the most well-known member of his family. That title currently belongs to his mother, Robyn Tannehill – the mayor of Oxford.
“I still get called the mayor’s son a good bit,” he said. “But sometimes people know me as a football player.”