“I was just ready to take that opportunity because that’s what I came here for,” he said.
Birr, who turns 18 in March, is pretty new to this whole kicking thing.
As a freshman at Kennedale High School, a school about 12 miles to the southeast of Fort Worth, Texas, Birr was egged on to go to an open tryout for kickers for the school’s freshman football team. A soccer goalkeeper for much of his youth, those who knew Birr best knew his strong right leg could be an asset on the gridiron.
After showing off that strength on a kickoff and after making a point after touchdown, Birr made the team.
He was called up to the varsity squad for the state playoffs, but didn’t make his debut until his sophomore year. The gears were set in motion for Birr in his understanding that kicking the pigskin could be his ticket to a college scholarship.
“That whole offseason (before my sophomore season), really all the way through my high school career, I’d wake up at 6 a.m., we had an indoor, I’d just kick before school and then lift with the team after,” Birr said. “Just really dedicated.”
Birr also took the initiative to begin working with kicking coach Jaden Oberkrom, a former kicker at TCU, who made a Big 12-record 79 career field goals.
“‘Raw’ is being pretty generous,” Oberkrom said about his first impressions of Birr’s kicks. “We fixed a lot. We fixed his feet – his feet were kind of all over the place. He was hitting it like a soccer ball, so we basically had to turn his kicking foot more sideways. His upper body was probably the biggest thing.
“He was leaning forward, falling to the right a lot, and his upper body was all out of whack. It’s funny now because over all the years trying to fix that, out of all the guys I train, he’s got the best form out of anyone I train. It’s so night and day compared to when he started.”
Twice an all-state selection at Kennedale, where he was a placekicker, punter and kickoff specialist, Birr still found attention hard to gain from college programs – any college program for that matter. He attended prospect camps at Texas A&M, Texas State and Wisconsin, yet still didn’t even get so much as a preferred walk-on opportunity.
Kennedale High coach Richard Barrett reached out to former Tech assistant coach Tashard Choice and connected Birr with Choice and then-Tech assistants Jeff Popovich and Tim Conner. Birr went to a specialists camp at Tech in June 2021, was offered his first and only scholarship a month later and committed to Tech shortly thereafter.
“They just made me feel like family,” Birr told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.
Birr had 58 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs and averaged 31.7 yards on 14 punts as a senior at Kennedale. He also was 7-of-10 on field-goal attempts and 48-for-50 on extra-point attempts. All Birr had left to do was graduate and stay healthy. The latter endeavor was not meant to be.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Birr said. “April 29 (2022), playing open gym basketball and I’m wearing regular tennis shoes and I go up for a layup, bump the dude, land on my right foot and all I hear is a pop.”
Birr had torn the ACL in his right leg, although he didn’t know that for about a month. There was not much pain, only discomfort, so Birr continued to work on his kicking and to lift weights off the field – including cleans and power squats.
About a week before he left for Atlanta to enroll at Tech, Birr decided to get an MRI just to be safe and was somewhat surprised by the revelation his ACL had torn.
Tech’s medical staff, including team physician Dr. John Xerogeanes, assured Birr he would overcome the injury. And Birr was told that the injury happening in his kicking leg was better than had it happened in his left leg, the leg he uses to plant in the ground with aggressive force before kicking the ball.
Birr spent the summer of 2022 and most of the 2022 season rehabilitating the injury. He went to practice and tried to learn as much as possible from current Tech junior kicker Gavin Stewart and former Tech kicker Jude Kelley. But on the weekends, when the Jackets were at the team hotel or on road trips, Birr was left to his own devices.
He found his way to the tattoo parlor.
“Me and my family would always watch ‘Ink Master’. It just looked cool, and I always wanted one,” Birr said of his multiple tattoos which have now engulfed the lower part of his left leg. “I started with a Bible verse on the outside of my leg. I went and got some stuff around it. Then an angel. Got Jesus on my calf and the sword was just kind of, ‘Let’s fill something in here.’”
Birr became Tech’s starting kicker Sept. 16 at Ole Miss. He made a 22-yard field goal that day, converted two extra points and had a 43-yard field-goal attempt blocked.
Tech’s decision to roll with Birr over Stewart, who missed all three of his field-goal tries in the Jackets’ first two games, didn’t make many headlines, and that was fine for Birr who said he owes a lot to Stewart’s tutelage and friendship. And the two have remained close through the transition – they went golfing together Wednesday.
Birr is 10-for-11 on field goal attempts this season and 28-for-29 on extra-point attempts. Not bad for a kid who is still learning on the fly and who wasn’t even able to kick at all this time a year ago.
“Obviously you wanna play, but I knew (Stewart), he had a really great year, so I was just kind of expecting another year to learn,” Birr said. “But everything just worked out. You get your chance, you take that opportunity.”