BILLINGS — Ask Cody Gagnon about the time he was not supposed to kick the ball to Gabe Sulser but did.
Gagnon, a sophomore at the time, might not want to talk about that mistake-turned-touchdown, but his coaches do. And the jests don't end for the current Billings West senior.
"I was the special teams coach. We never saw him again" after the game, West assistant football coach Steve Nieto said as Gagnon stood by laughing. "And then he's in my classroom, and he wouldn't even look at me. Then finally one day he's like, 'Coach, can I come back, and we're like, 'Sure! Where'd you go?'"
"That did happen, that's true," Gagnon admitted. "I might as well have just passed it to him. I messed up on that."
"I remember it perfectly," head coach Rob Stanton added.
Return to the sport he did, ready to make amends.
"On the second-to-last-day of school, I think I came up and talked to (Nieto) and said, 'Hey, I made the decision to commit to football. Would you guys take me back on the team?' And he said, 'Yeah, of course. We'd love to have you.' And then I went and found coach Stanton the next day, got my gear and then it all started from there," Gagnon recalled.
Now in his final year, Gagnon is proving to be one of the best kickers in the state.
Gagnon has been the starting kicker for two years at West, and in his senior year, he's made the most of the opportunity. He is 7 for 8 on field goals, with three of those makes coming from 40-plus yards. Gagnon drilled a 45-yard field goal against Billings Skyview and followed that up two weeks later with his career long, a 46-yard make against Helena Capital. Against Billings Senior, he gave West its only points in the form of a 43-yard field goal. The latter two came on makes where the snap was bad, and Gagnon, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, took a two-step approach to the kick and made them. Gagnon has also been punting since his junior year.
"He is one of the best players on our team. He's made several clutch kicks for us and as painful as this is for me to say, he's a pretty good football player and you don't think of kickers as football players," Stanton said jokingly on Thursday. "He does work. He puts his time in. He's one of our better players and his ability to do some things with that football is unparalleled. Not only kicking but punting as well."
Stanton compares Gagnon to former West and Montana State kicker Eric Fisher, who is the head track coach at Bozeman High.
Gagnon's career-long against Capital came one day after Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Nick Folk went 0 for 3 on field goals, including one from 31 yards, prompting Gagnon's friends to have some fun on social media with him about how he should be in the NFL.
"I got in the truck with Ty Rider, who was the one who tweeted it, and he said, 'Did you see my tweet?'" Gagnon recalled with a laugh. "I looked at it, and they were all laughing and I looked up and he had this big smile on his face and he was just laughing about it. They were joking around and saying, 'When are you getting called up to the NFL? You got any offers yet? Come on, we shouldn't be friends with you right now you need to be up there.' They had some fun with it. I enjoyed it, it gave me a little laugh."
And hey Tampa Bay, why not?
Gagnon grew up playing soccer, and was balancing that with football as a sophomore. He said he was leading the Golden Bears in scoring in his final year playing soccer. However, balancing the two sports was tough, so he decided in his final two seasons he would focus on football, a decision he said was for the better.
"It was kind of a big decision for me but I think in the long run, I made a good decision," Gagnon said. "I had aspirations of playing college sports and so I was kind of thinking forward to that. A lot of my friends were on the football team. I went to some training camps and I kicked well there and that's kind of when I realized that I could have a little bit of a future in football."
For him, kicking has been more than just an option he may use for college.
"It's definitely shaped me into the person I am today," Gagnon said. "It really teaches you to stay calm in key positions, like when you go out there for a field goal. You have to block everything out that's going on around you and just kind of keep yourself calm and focus on the job you need to get done."
Gagnon said his career long in practice, with no tail wind, is 58 yards. That kick he accomplished towards the end of the summer, when he and his dad, Rob, were at Daylis Stadium practicing to see how his summer workouts had paid off.
"I have three key words I say in my head before each kick. Plant, straight, follow," Gagnon explained. "I did those things right and I looked up, saw it was straight and I think I cleared it by a yard or two. It was crazy. I was a little hyped after it."
Gagnon takes more jests from his teammates, as his workouts tend to be easier than the other players'. Kicking, as most understand, is more of a mental game. Kickers are never bothered until something goes wrong, in which case heaps of criticism is usually tossed. Gagnon said he's only missed one career PAT, and a short-term memory is a must and that one cannot lose confidence. Gagnon said he had to train himself not to get down if he missed anything, but at this point it's something he's gotten better at.
But the jokes still come.
"They joke around and say, 'Do you ever sweat, kicker?,'" Gagnon said. "I'm like, 'Well, on special teams units I sweat pretty well for about five minutes.' Then on Thursdays, I kick every other play so I'm out there sprinting. So I say, 'Yeah, I got a little sweat on out there today.'"
College kicking is the goal, and Gagnon said he has been in contact with a few colleges including Montana and Montana State. Gagnon said he has not had any offers yet, but college football is the ultimate dream. Gagnon also said some NAIA schools, including Montana Tech, have shown interest.
Gagnon hopes to study mechanical engineering. Plus, he's an outdoorsman, who enjoys the cold and spends most of the winter skiing. He said getting to play college football would be a dream come true, and the fact that coaches were even showing some interest meant the world to him for the work he's put in.
"He's all-around a very good athlete," Stanton said. "He's pretty focused and determined and he has aspirations to be a college kicker and I think he can be."
But for now, Gagnon's focus is on the Class AA playoffs, as West (6-4) will hit the road Friday to take on Helena (7-2) at 7 p.m. The test will be a tough one for the Golden Bears, and Gagnon will get a chance to do something he never has before in a game: kick in the snow.
Gagnon isn't concerned that it will bother him.
"I was definitely a snow child," Gagnon said. "I enjoy the snow. I have to make a couple of changes with my plant foot, but nothing too major. I'm looking forward to it, it'll be a fun game."