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How a single sound turned Jake Elliott from tennis player to Eagles folk hero

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PHILADELPHIA -- In describing Jake Elliott's 61-yard field goal against the New York Giants -- an improbable game-winner that prompted some delirious teammates to carry the rookie off the field on their shoulders -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson first pointed to what he heard.

"Sounded like a cannon off his foot," he said.

It was that same sound that started Elliott down a twisting path that led to Philadelphia, where he's become a folk hero overnight.

The story goes like this: Elliott attended a homecoming pep rally as a freshman at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois, and was randomly picked out of the stands to participate in a field goal kicking contest. He was a tennis player with no real kicking background, but when he made contact, it was like a thunderclap. Football coach Kurt Weinberg, interest piqued, told Elliott he should consider trying out for the team.

"I kind of just brushed it off and continued on with my life," Elliott said.

Two years went by before the second knock on the door came. Elliott was on the tennis courts training for his junior season when one of the football coaches, in need of a kicker and remembering Elliott from the pep rally, came over and asked him to try some field goals.

"And he said, 'Come back tomorrow. Come back tomorrow if you want to play.' I went home and thought it over and was like, 'All right, whatever, I'll do it.' And it just kind of rolled from there."

Brand new to the job, he booted a game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired to lead his team past Oak Park River Forest -- on homecoming, as fate would have it -- and followed that up with a 47-yard game-winner the next week.

He went on to kick for the University of Memphis, where he broke Stephen Gostkowski's school record for points scored (445). Gostkowski, the New England Patriots kicker, made it a point to come back to Memphis and work with Elliott.

"I got a chance to hang out with him a little bit and just kind of watch and observe and learn as much as I could from him," he said.

Elliott graduated from Memphis with a degree in marketing management and was set to go out into the real world before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round.

Accuracy issues cost him the kicking competition with Randy Bullock this offseason. Elliott was cut, then signed to the Bengals' practice squad. The Eagles plucked him after their kicker, Caleb Sturgis, suffered a quad injury in the opener against the Washington Redskins.

He has gone 8-for-10 in field goal tries since joining the Eagles, including, of course, the 61-yarder against the Giants. He followed that up with a 4-for-4 performance against the Chargers, all from 40-plus yards.

He says his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) keeps him from being noticed in public. He's quickly become a household name in Philly, though, and all because of a pep rally field goal kicking contest.

"Yeah, you definitely gotta take a look back and just kind of realize how lucky I am and how thankful I am to be in the situation I'm in," he said. "Looking back, it's a lot of fun to remember that story and kind of go forward."