It doesn’t take long for Jace Feely to recall his favorite memory from watching his father, Jay, kick professionally in the NFL.
Feely, around the age of 8 at the time, was in the stands at the then-University of Phoenix Stadium on Dec. 12, 2010, when his father and the Arizona Cardinals faced the Denver Broncos in a Week 14 matchup. Jay connected on five field goals, four extra points and scored the only touchdown of his career – a fake field goal he ran in from 5 yards out late in the first half.
His 25-point effort was the most by any single player in Cardinals history, and he fell one shy of the NFL record.
“He ran to the sideline and I ran all the way down the stairs, jumped into his arms and he took me into the locker room afterwards,” Feely recalled. “It was just an awesome moment.”
Now, as Feely prepares for his senior season at Gilbert Christian, he is hoping to create his own legacy while honoring his last name.
Feely is already one of the top placekickers in the state and is quickly making a case as one of the best in the country. When schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic in March and Feely was forced to find his own field for kicking, he routinely hit what would be equivalent to 50 or more yards on a lined field.
On July 12, he posted a video to social media that showed him make a 63-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare. He credited his work ethic and overall success at the position to his father.
“My dad taught me at a young age that I had to work for the goals I want to achieve,” Feely said. “I took that to heart and just kept trying to work like him every day. Anything I do is competitive. I learned that from him.”
Due to his father’s previous profession as a placekicker in the NFL, Feely often found himself holding a football at a young age. But he always played soccer rather than football growing up. It wasn’t until his freshman year at Gilbert Christian that he transitioned to become a placekicker. As expected, it came naturally.
Playing at a small school, he was often recognized for his name rather than his athletic ability. But that narrative quickly changed as he showcased his talent all over the field for the Knights.
“Jace is a weapon on both ends,” Gilbert Christian coach Danny Norris said of Feely, who also plays linebacker. “He can boot it to the end zone and is a terrific onside kicker as well. When we kick the ball and it doesn’t go through the end zone, we now have an extra defender because he isn’t afraid to go hit someone.
“It’s not often your kicker also be one of your best tacklers.”
At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Feely is one of the bigger players on Gilbert Christian’s 29-man roster. He recorded 30 total tackles last season as one of the defensive starters and expects to have an even bigger year as a senior in 2020.
While he enjoys making plays on defense, Feely knows his future involves a kicking tee.
He and his father decided when his recruitment began to take off they would keep any offers he received a private family matter. Though Feely did say he has offers from power-five schools.
Last summer, he took a recruiting trip to the University of Michigan, where his father played. The two were able to compare photos from his dad’s playing days in Ann Arbor. Feely believes it is unlikely Michigan offers him due to a lack of roster space in his position.
In some ways, he sees that as bittersweet. While he would love the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps and suit up in the maize and blue, he also aims to create his own legacy.
“Everyone knows me as the son of Jay Feely,” he said. “I’ve always kind of kept that in the back of my mind. I want to be my own person. God gave me these abilities, both on and off the field. I just try to amplify that as much as I can to my peers, my teachers, my teammates and my coaches.”
Uncertain times remain surrounding the high school football season as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic. The Arizona Interscholastic Association announced a phased-in approach for the fall sports season, which has football beginning official practices on Sept. 7 and games on Oct. 2. Though that remains tentative.
One other factor that could result in a lost fall high school football is the decision from the state’s three largest universities surrounding the sport. Reports surfaced last week that both the NCAA FCS’ Big Sky Conference, where Northern Arizona competes, would announce their plans to either proceed with a fall football season or postpone to spring. The Pac-12 was also reportedly set to make such a decision, which would affect both Arizona State and the University of Arizona.
Whether or not this decision affects high schools will be known after the AIA Executive Board meets on Aug. 17.
Though whatever the decision, Feely said he will be ready to take the field for his final season and help lead the Knight back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“I just hope to kick my best and while I can’t really give you a number, I want to do the best I can on defense,” Feely said. “I hope to be remembered as a hard worker, respectful and overall a diligent player.”