Lake Stevens junior cornerback Kasen Kinchen, who has a scholarship offer from Oregon, has three interceptions already this season. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens junior cornerback Kasen Kinchen, who has a scholarship offer from Oregon, has three interceptions already this season. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Highly ranked Lake Stevens junior cornerback is a ball-hawk

Kasen Kinchen, who has an offer from Oregon, has three interceptions in two games this season.

It was the type of highlight-reel play one would find on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

In the third quarter of last year’s de facto Wesco 4A title game, with Monroe desperately needing a score to climb back into the contest, the Bearcats tried to loft a pass over Lake Stevens cornerback Kasen Kinchen and into the left corner of the end zone.

Kinchen refused to let that happen.

Running stride for stride with the receiver, Kinchen located the ball, planted his left foot into the turf and leaped into the air. With his momentum carrying him backward, Kinchen reached back with his right hand and channeled NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., making a spectacular one-handed interception before falling to the end-zone turf.

“One of the most athletic plays I’ve seen on defense in years,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said Wednesday, reflecting on the play. “It was just extremely explosive and very athletic.”

That elite talent and athleticism is a big part of what makes Kinchen one of the state’s top defensive backs. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerback has a scholarship offer from the University of Oregon and is ranked by 247Sports as the 10th overall junior recruit in the state.

“He’s a ball-hawker,” Tri said. “He reads routes really well, and he can accelerate off his breaks and close that air out as quickly as anyone we’ve had around here in a long time.

“(When) the quarterback looks to throw the ball at the receiver, by the time the ball comes out, that gap is now gone and Kasen is playing the ball. I saw him do that last year a little bit, and now he’s really emerging as a guy that’s confident enough to read the route, make a break and go get the pick.”

Kinchen’s playmaking ability has been on full display in fourth-ranked Lake Stevens’ first two games. The two-way standout already has three interceptions on defense and has been an emerging threat on offense, catching four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Kinchen’s defensive performance in last week’s win over Class 3A fifth-ranked Lincoln was particularly impressive. Not only did he have two interceptions — one came on a diving catch in the end zone off a pass tipped by safety Tom Lewis — but he helped keep an ultra-talented receiving corps in check by locking down the far right side of the field.

“He pretty much erased (one of their receivers) from the game,” Tri said. “… It makes it a heck of a lot easier (for our) defensive coordinator knowing that you can shut down or erase basically one of your opponents’ best players.

“We’ve had some pretty darn good corners (over the years),” he added. “But I would rank Kasen right up there with the rest of all those guys.”

Lake Stevens junior cornerback Kasen Kinchen tracks a ball-carrier during practice on Sept. 13 in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens junior cornerback Kasen Kinchen tracks a ball-carrier during practice on Sept. 13 in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Kinchen, whose father, Kirby, is a defensive backs coach at Lake Stevens, has played cornerback since taking up football at age 7. He said he improved his game this past offseason while training with 7-on-7 coach Reggie Jones, a former cornerback who worked his way onto multiple NFL practice squads and preseason rosters.

“I worked a lot with him this offseason,” Kinchen said. “He helped me (improve) my footwork and hips. He’s probably the biggest reason why I am where I am right now. He’s helped me out a lot.”

Kinchen also is developing into a dangerous offensive weapon.

After playing on both sides of the ball in youth football, he didn’t play offense the past two seasons at Lake Stevens because of the team’s wealth of receivers. This past offseason, however, the coaching staff knew he was too talented to not incorporate into the offense.

“We had to try to find a way to get him on the field on offense, too,” Tri said. “So he spent the offseason working at our flanker position, … and now it’s starting to pay off for him.”

In the season opener, Kinchen raced past Ferndale’s cornerback and hauled in a contested 39-yard catch at the goal line. Last week, he had three receptions for a team-high 62 yards, including a fourth-and-4 screen pass that he took for a 32-yard touchdown.

“He’s a vertical threat because of his speed, (and) he’s also nifty enough with the ball in his hands that he can make guys miss,” Tri said. “He’s got that athleticism and burst, so he can turn a one-yard pass into a (long) touchdown.

“I don’t think we’ve even come close to really seeing his true potential on the offensive side of the ball yet,” he added. “So as good as he’s playing and as happy as we are with his production, we think that he’s going to get better as the season progresses.”

Kinchen said that while college recruitment is a continual process, he was beyond thrilled this past February when he found out a major program like Oregon had offered him a scholarship.

“I’ve been working toward this my whole life, so I just really couldn’t believe it,” he said. “When I heard the news, I was so excited and I didn’t really know how to express my feelings. … This has been my dream my whole life.”

However, Kinchen certainly isn’t the type to rest on his laurels.

“It’s just crazy to me that it’s happening, (but) I’m just always trying to work hard and stay humble,” he said. “I’m not where I need to be yet. I need to get better and work harder.”

And while Kinchen is the highest-rated prospect on this powerhouse Lake Stevens team, he’s just one of many standout players on a squad loaded with talent.

“We’re all a brotherhood,” he said. “We always have each others’ backs … I’ve been playing with most of these guys my whole life, so we all know each other pretty good, (and) we have really good chemistry.

“And I think that’s a big part of why we’re doing pretty good this year so far.”

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