James McCourt on the brink of Irish NFL history after landmark move
The Irish-born kicker looks set to be the first Irishman to make the final cut of an NFL roster in 37 years.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have sent the Irish NFL community into a frenzy after claiming Irishman James McCourt off waivers.
McCourt is the only active kicker on the Jaguars roster and with just one more week of preseason football left to play, it looks promising that the Irishman will be the Jaguars designated kicker when the 2022 NFL regular season gets underway.
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson is eager to see what McCourt, an undrafted kicker out of Illinois, has to offer.
"Obviously, consistency is something that you look for in kickers. It’ll be a good opportunity for him," Pederson said during Tuesdays press conference.
McCourt spent three years at Illinois from 2019 to 2021. During that period, he was 8/15 on kicks from 50+ yards out.
McCourt's career-long field goal is 57-yards which is a promising basis for a rookie kicker considering that the NFL field goal record stands at 66-yards by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. It's easy to see why Pederson described McCourt's leg strength as “impressive.”
Consistency is key and McCourt is doing his best to prove it. During his final year with Illinois, the Irishman had a field goal conversion rate of 78.3% - a solid average to build off and improve on as he ventures into the NFL. Kicking in the NFL has always been on McCourt’s mind.
The Irish roots
McCourt was born in Dublin and attended Scoil Bhríde in Ranelagh where he played soccer and rugby in school before moving to Parkland, Florida at the age of eight.
However, McCourt never forgot about his Irish roots. In a 2019 interview with The42, McCourt said Brian O'Driscoll was one of his early sporting heroes, but the out-halves always got his attention.
"I read Ronan O’Gara’s book, Johnny Wilkinson’s book and I’ve watched so many interviews with Johnny Sexton and Dan Carter just because there are parallels and similarities between their kicking game and what I have to do regarding the mental approach," McCourt said.
"My goal and dream has always been to play professional sport," he added, "and the NFL is something I’ve definitely longed for."
Why was James McCourt cut by the Chargers?
Well, the NFL has a limit on the number of players that can be on the active roster of an NFL team. Training camp provides an opportunity for rookies like James McCourt and other NFL hopefuls to secure their spot on the team by showcasing their talents in front of coaches.
Failure to stand out in camp or perform at a high level usually spells bad news for players. The roster gets thinner and thinner as the season edges closer. From 16 August- 30 August, NFL teams must bring their active roster from 90 players to 53 players.
The kicker position is even more competitive, as teams prefer to have one kicker on their team in order to add depth at another position.
When it came to McCourt’s spell with the Chargers, he performed well in training camp showing consistency. That translated to the football field when he was successful with his extra point attempt against the Dallas Cowboys last week.
However, with McCourt barely seeing game-time and veteran kicker Dustin Hopkins recently signing a three-year deal worth $9 million with the Chargers, it was an uphill challenge for the rookie kicker to make the final cut.
McCourt now joins a Jaguars team that is desperate for consistency in the kicking department. The Jaguars waived kicker Ryan Santoso after his mediocre performance in a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three kickers have been signed and cut in the offseason by the Jaguars. However, McCourt could be the man to put an end to their kicking woes.
For McCourt, the biggest football game of his career is on the horizon. The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Atlanta Falcons this Saturday in the final week of the NFL preseason. If McCourt can remain composed and kick with consistency, it's possible he will make the final roster and become the first Irishman in the NFL since Neil O’ Donoghue hung up his kicking boots after the 1985 season with the St Louis Cardinals [currently the Arizona Cardinals].
For more on this story, and other American Football news, check out The Irish Punt.