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Kavanaght puts team above self

5th-year senior slowly moving up receiver ranks

October 2, 2003
Senior wide reciever Ziehl Kavanaght catches a pass while Iowa defensive back Jovon Johnson guards him Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans won 20-10. —

He quietly runs his routes, perfect in form without a flashy strut or any trash talk.

Fifth-year senior Ziehl Kavanaght goes about his business, out of the spotlight of media attention but in the sight line of special teams gunners looking to make one big play.

But, through it all, the language barrier, the lack of passes thrown his way, the time on the sidelines his first four seasons and being hung out to dry as the punt returner, the 26-year-old Quebec native has no complaints.

"I'm just trying to help the team," Kavanaght said. "If it's going to help the team I'm happy (to catch) more. I just want the team to win."

On Saturday, however, Kavanaght received his just reward. After catching only three balls in the first four games of the season, quarterback Jeff Smoker found Kavanaght open in the right corner of the end zone and hit the receiver for a 17-yard touchdown to jump-start MSU's 20-10 upset of Iowa.

"Isn't that (touchdown) great?" wide receivers coach Jim McElwain said. "They all have a prominent role, because they're all responsible to get each other open."

In his four seasons playing for the Spartans (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten), the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has never caught more than two passes in a game but that might change soon. With Agim Shabaj catching the majority of the team's passes, defenses will start to focus more on the slot position, which could leave Kavanaght open more.

The team has been working to get another receiver more involved in the offense. That spot could be filled by any number of players, including tight end Eric Knott and receivers Kyle Brown, Matt Trannon, Aaron Alexander or Jerramy Scott.

"I'd really like to say that (second receiver) would be Ziehl Kavanaght," offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said. "Even though he's not the guy catching all the balls, he has been our most consistent route runner. He caught the touchdown and he caught a dig route in the first quarter for a first down.

"He's the guy that has really worked harder and really been consistent."

Kavanaght is one of only two players remaining from the last time the Spartans played a bowl game on Jan. 1, 2000, along with senior offensive guard Paul Harker. So, Kavanaght has tried to pass on that team's success to this year's players.

Kavanaght's experience is also a reason why senior quarterback Jeff Smoker has confidence throwing him the ball.

"He's been here for a while," Smoker said. "I've gotten to throw the ball to him for a couple years now. He hasn't been on the field much until this year. I'm proud of the way that he's stepping up this season."

Kavanaght also has taken on the role of mentor this season. He understands the difficulty of the culture change involved with coming to the United States from his native French-speaking Quebec.

So, the senior has taken true freshman receiver Sam Champagne, who also graduated from Cegep du Vieux, Montreal, under his wing.

"I think he helped a lot for a comfort zone," McElwain said. "Because I walk into a meeting room and those two guys are speaking a foreign language and I couldn't tell you what they're talking about.

"I think that's nice for both of them, because whenever you're a long ways from home, it's nice to have somebody from home."

Champagne has missed most of the season because of a shoulder injury, which the freshman will have surgery on today. So, depending on the recovery time, it could mean that he will redshirt this season and start playing next year.

"What I try to do is help him out with everything, the language barrier and all," Kavanaght said. "I just try to tell him about what it's like in the United States."

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