After bouncing around three teams in his first two years in the NFL, Kevin McDermott found a home with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015. The undrafted free agent is very comfortable with his punter, Jeff Locke (who was also his teammate at UCLA), placekicker Blair Walsh and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
McDermott would like to stay with the Vikings as long as possible, but, knowing that one day his football career will end, he looks to his wife, Lauren, for a lifetime commitment. Even more essentially, he looks to his Catholic faith for solace in this life and the next. The Nashville native has a keen appreciation for the value of meditation and sees Sunday Mass as indispensable.
McDermott spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie in expectation of the Vikings’ matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the NFL playoffs (Sunday at 1pm Eastern).
The Vikings lost to the Seahawks, 38-7, in their last meeting, which took place on Dec. 6. What do you need to do differently this time in order to come away with a win?
The Seahawks are a very talented team, with a Super Bowl pedigree. They’ve been in the last two, winning in 2014 and barely losing in 2015. We have tremendous respect for them, but we have to stay focused on our own play and hope that great practices this week will end up meaning a different result this weekend.
Who were your favorite football players growing up?
The list of players I enjoyed watching the most was heavily influenced by the players my dad liked. He rooted for Notre Dame, so we always wanted the Fighting Irish to play well and win. One of my favorites was Jerome Bettis.
Every boy seems to want, at one time or another, to be a professional athlete. I was no exception, but one of the things that helped me achieve that goal was my father’s advice. He played college basketball at South Dakota State, so he knew something about getting to a level of athletics beyond high school, which then helped in getting to the pros.
Most people don’t have the talent to just coast into the pros. That was the case for me, so the sacrifices my dad taught me to make were what made a college and pro career possible. He has taught my brother Conor, who is on the UCLA football team now, the same things — that once you choose a goal, you have to work to get it and put in the effort, even when you don’t feel like doing so.
Another man who deeply influenced my athletic career is Ricky Bowers, the football coach, basketball coach and athletic director at my high school in Nashville, the Ensworth School. His teams have won four straight state championships in football and basketball, and my brother has been a part of some of those victories.
Of all the universities to attend, how did you choose UCLA?
Early on in high school, I was more interested in basketball than football. My dad’s interest in hoops is what influenced by attraction to the sport. Being fairly tall, at 6-feet 5 inches, helped, and I planned to play basketball at Sewanee [The University of the South], a Division III school.
I took long snapping seriously for my high school, but never realized it was something I could do beyond my senior year. My high-school coaches were the ones who changed my mindset. They said I had the skills to play in college and even in the NFL.
Even though I had no scholarship offers in my junior year of high school, I was unexpectedly contacted by UCLA in my senior year. They had seen my highlight tape and were interested in having me walk on. I did that, and in my redshirt junior year, I was given a scholarship.
What were your best football experiences at UCLA?
When I was a redshirt sophomore, we beat No. 7-ranked Texas by 22 points in front of a huge crowd in Austin. That was quite a game — one that really jumps out when I think of my college career. Then, in my final year, we beat USC, which we had not done while I was at UCLA. In fact, we had lost to them, 50-0, just the year before, so it was an enormous turnaround. That was a great victory after so many losses to our crosstown rival.
Was the transition from college to the pros tough?
My transition had its share of difficulties. I signed with the 49ers right after the draft and was blessed to make the team. We finished the regular season 12-4 and were edged out of the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game. Following that season, I had elbow surgery and was released in final cuts of the 2014 season.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep playing football, but then I got onto the practice squad of the Denver Broncos. After a short time there, I signed with the Baltimore Ravens in October of 2014. Then, in April of 2015, I signed a two-year contract with the Vikings, which reunited me with punter Jeff Locke, who was a very close friend of mine at UCLA.
It’s tough to stay positive when you’ve been cut or if you’re dealing with injuries. Before the Vikings, I experienced a lot of tests, but I’m thankful to have faced them, because I’ve learned from them and have a better way of seeing things now. I know there are only a few things I have control over, and I shouldn’t place all my hope in any one job, since that can be taken away so quickly.
I’ve also learned how common monastic practices (primarily meditation) can produce spiritual and physical well-being. Less stress, better sleep and lower blood pressure are some of the benefits of regular prayer.
Are those practices difficult to engage in while playing a professional sport?
It’s not that tough to keep up with things spiritually, since I’m not a household name. I don’t have lots of requests and responsibilities outside of playing football, so that translates to more free time than some other NFL players. It also means I can go out in public without being recognized. I just blend in like a normal guy, which is something my wife and I appreciate.
How does the Catholic Church help you the most?
What gives me the most strength and security is being a part of the routines and rituals of the Church. I realized in high school, partially due to a retreat in my junior year, how dependent I was on a regular schedule that included Sunday Mass. Then, as pro football became more and more of a real-life possibility, I was determined to keep up a schedule based on traditional spirituality.
I wanted to do well in football, for sure, but football was not going to get in the way of being a good Catholic. Every week for me in the NFL — whether that was preseason, regular season or postseason — has also included a Sunday Mass, which, most of the time, has been done the evening before games.
Maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of was a Latin Mass in London. The 49ers were over there in 2013 for a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the priest made available to the team only did Latin Masses. Usually, people associate traditional Masses like that with beautiful cathedrals — something I’ve experienced as an altar boy in Nashville — but this time, it was in a conference room of a hotel.
Despite the plain surroundings, or maybe even because of them, I was so enthralled and moved by what was happening. It was an ordinary situation made quite extraordinary through the beautiful gift of the Latin Mass. Being a part of that with my teammates was unexpected and much appreciated.
Long snappers and other players on special teams can have a lot of down time during games, so do you pray during those periods?
I pray Hail Marys while we’re on offense, so it can be said that all of our passes are Hail Mary passes. The Hail Mary is a prayer for any place or time, but two of the benefits of praying it during games are being reminded of how blessed I am that my job is playing a game and keeping my mind engaged in a routine. Since I usually have only eight or nine plays a game, it does leave lots of time to think. If you let your mind wander, you can get distracted or nervous, so the prayer allows me to give thanks and focus.
Being a good Catholic is more important than being a good football player, but you can be both. That’s something former Vikings center Matt Birk put on display in his career. He’s kind of a legend around here, where we’re continually reminded of his accomplishments, like being chosen for six Pro Bowls. We’re also reminded of how much work he put into be a great player and also the things he did in the community. He’s someone who has a solid spiritual foundation that is the basis for the good things he does.
You mentioned your wife, Lauren. What do you appreciate most about married life?
My wife is my best friend. I love how we share everything together and are in it for the long haul. I’ve found a great home with the Vikings and want to stay with the team as long as that’s possible, but I know one day it will come to an end. Marriage is different, since it is meant to be for a lifetime.
No matter where I’m living or what work I’m doing, my wife is always supportive. That gift of companionship is so valuable and affirming. It gives you an immediate, tangible strength and purpose in life. We are called as Christians to love one another as God loves us, which is always a challenge, but it is made easier when you’re near someone you find very easy to love. The effortlessness of loving my wife — and the beautiful love she gives in return — make the rocky seas of life so much simpler to navigate.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Beacon, 2015), is a collection
of his sports interviews, many of which appeared in the Register.