the study of the kicking components within sports

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fred Mitchell 2 - The Wittenberg Years

Located in Springfield Ohio, Wittenberg University is a small liberal arts college with a football program with a history of success. Part 1 of our interview with Fred Mitchell concluded at the point where he had selected Wittenberg as his college destination.

As a freshman in 1965, his biggest challenge was not winning the kicking job, rather it was creating the kicking job.
"The interesting thing when I was a freshman was that I was also a sprinter on the track team (both at high school and at Wittenberg). Initially coach Edwards wanted to make me a wide receiver, and I told him ‘No, I just want to concentrate on kicking’. We went back and forth on that a little bit, and his quote was ‘Football players are football players, and doctors are specialists’. So I had to convince him. I kind of got of to a slow start, missing a few field goals the first three or four games – so my confidence was waning a little bit. Then we played a game at Heidelberg College. I kicked two fourth quarter field goals and they were the only points scored in the game. It was a muddy game, and we won six to nothing. That was sort of the turning point where I convinced him that indeed Wittenberg could use a kicking specialist and I was the guy to do it. From there I went on to set some records. The most notable was on the last game of my senior year, when I broke the career record for most points scored by kicking. That last game was at Wagner College in New York."
At that point in time his career record was for College Division, a designation that has since change:
"One thing of note, back in the 60’s that was right before they made the distinction between Division II, Division III, and all the divisions that they have now. Back then you were either considered Major College or College Division. A College Division meant that a school like Wittenberg which only has an enrollment of about 2000 students was thrown into the same category as schools like Akron, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, etc. We had many of those on our schedule and we beat most of those. As a matter of fact Akron was in our conference at that time – the Ohio Athletic Conference. We beat Davidson at Davidson; we beat Hofstra. We played a very strong schedule. In terms of records, what would be considered a Division II school like Wittenberg now, the records were compared to the bigger schools. As a matter of fact, Jan Stenerud was kicking at Montana State for two of the years that I was in college. Montana State was considered College Division back then. He only kicked two years at Montana State, and I believe he had the NCAA record at that time for points scored in one season. I was able to get the career record, because I played all four years. By the way, I was a straight on kicker… still have my square toes shoes."
Did he ever think about trying to switch over to soccer style?
“Not really. I fooled around a little bit in practice but not a whole lot. That [straight-ahead] was the way I basically taught myself to kick, and I felt comfortable that way. And the interesting thing too is that a lot of people back in the mid 60’s, when the soccer style kickers were first starting to come in, thought that it was a fad that would die out because of the generally lower trajectory of their kicks. They thought that their kicks would be blocked. Nowadays you see the soccer style kickers get back usually about eight yards from the line of scrimmage, whereas we straight-on kickers would get back seven yards. The ball usually gets up higher with straight-on kickers. Back in the mid-60’s you’re talking about Charlie and Pete Gogolak, Jan Stenerud of course, and Garo Yepremian. But there weren’t a whole lot of soccer style kickers, and especially not in high school or college back then. Now you see the impact of kids playing soccer in America from an early age. That has been such an important factor on why kickers are so good now. Obviously the soccer style manner of kicking is a superior way of doing it. But it was certainly was different back in the 60’s."
Does any particular kick come to mind as the biggest play of his football career?
“I mentioned earlier how we played some bigger schools – we played Davidson at Davidson in 1966, my sophomore year. I kicked a winning field goal late in the fourth quarter to help beat them. I mentioned earlier the two field goals in the fourth quarter against Heidelberg was the difference there. And then from a personal standpoint breaking the NCAA record in the final game of my senior year at Wagner was pretty cool. I went into the game needing five points to tie the record and six to break it. I ended up with nine points – six extra points and a field goal. That was very rewarding."
FOOTNOTE: Fred Mitchell's scoring record stood for 20 years. The present record holders are:
Division I - FBS: Art Carmody, Louisville, 433 points
Division I - FCS: Dan Carpenter, Montana, 407 points
Division II: Jeff Glas, North Dakota, 420 points
Division III: Jeff Schebler, Wisconsin-Whitewater, 398 points and counting

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NFL Week Seven K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week seven of the 2009 season: 

If asked to name the four most important aspects of the game of football, most fans will answer 'placekicking, kickoffs, holding, and snapping'. This week's quotes look at each of the four.

Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian discussed placekicker Adam Vinatieri's recovery from knee surgery:
"We are not going to lose him for the year. He's out 4-to-8 weeks. I was with him Monday night and he was lifting weights and beginning to get into some serious rehabilitation. Knowing Adam, he's going to want to make it back before eight weeks, but as we've all learned from Tiger Woods, when you're involved in a swinging motion, it's best to let Mother Nature run her course and do things in her own way. We won't put a timetable on it, but he's in good spirits. The operation was a big success. He's moving forward. He'll be back long before the season's over."
On the opening kickoff of the Green Bay at Cleveland game, Mason Crosby's kickoff hit the goal line pylon and was ruled out-of-bounds. Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum discussed the ruling:
"I drew this because I knew I’d have to explain it a couple times. A picture’s worth 1,000 words.... The leading edge of the goal line is in the end zone, so it’s no different than a ballcarrier. If he breaks the leading edge, he’s in the end zone. It’s the same with a ball. The way I understand it, (the official) determined that either simultaneously or prior to hitting the base of the pylon, it hit out of bounds. (That's the lower X, below the pylon and out of bounds.) If the ball were to hit the inside portion of the pylon in the air, it would cross through the leading edge of goal line, therefore it’s a touchback. (That's the upper X, on the pylon's inside edge).... (The official) was standing right there, had great vision, and he was adamant to me that the ball had hit out of bounds before it hit the base."
Denver kicker Matt Prater will now have a new holder on placekicks. Yesterday the Broncos released punter Brett Kern, who also served as the holder, and replaced him with veteran Mitch Berger. Prater commented:
"We'll just have to work hard this week and do the best we can. Mitch has a lot of experience holding, so we should be fine. I was sad, though, when I saw Brett pack his bag and leave. We were really close. He was like a brother to me. It's one of the tough parts about this game."
St. Louis has a new long snapper. The Rams signed Ryan Neill to take over for Chris Massey who suffered a season ending ACL injury in the game against the Colts. Kicker Josh Brown commented on the lose:
"It's very disheartening. You see a lot of injuries, but when they happen in our room, and there's only three of you [punter Donnie Jones, Massey, and Brown], you tend to be pretty close-knit with each other."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mind Over Foot, part 2

What were they thinking? Answer: ideally, they weren't thinking.
After kicking a game winning field goal in overtime last week, Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee commented:
“I have a routine in my mind and physically that I go through. I take my steps and tell myself to kick it right down the middle. Then all my thoughts are gone. I don’t give myself time for negative thoughts to creep in.”
In a recent interview, former Cal kicker Tyler Fredrickson was asked what went through his mind when he was about to kick. He responded:
"Hopefully nothing. It’s when you start thinking you get in trouble. At that point, if you can’t turn off your mind and simply operate on muscle memory you’re screwed. The doubt will 99.9% of the time get the best of you."

It is certainly not surprising that they gave the same answer. Virtually every kicker, coach, or anyone associated with kicking gives essentially the same answer. That got me to thinking about not thinking. The initial image that popped into my mind was that of a meditating Buddhist monk in a remote tranquil monastery somewhere high in the mountains. That is of course a marked visual contrast to a kicker standing in the middle of a football stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming spectators. I figured that first image was either an oversimplification of a complex topic, a woefully inadequate comparison, and/or was flat out wrong. Consequently I consulted my friend the physio-losopher. It turns out I knew even less about nothing than I thought I did.
"Hmmm... Well that's complicated for being "nothing" :-)
It's a western misconception that "emptying the mind" is "nothing". Specifically, this "technique" is most commonly identified with Eastern meditation practices (which are lifestyle practices that are the foundations of religious / spiritual pursuits): India, China, Japan (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism respectively). The "technique" - rather than being "emptiness" - is actually a one-pointed focus of concentration so that attention to other mental processes is withdrawn and they are not noticed by the conscious mind. the mind is abuzz with electrical activity. We only notice a portion of it.
When a person is falling asleep there is a phenomenon called "hypnagogic" imagery, where a person can be aware of this electrical activity - a "lucid dream," one where the person is aware that they are dreaming, is the same sort of phenomenon. the more intelligent a person is (the more structured access he has to his brain's activity) the more distracting that activity becomes. This is "not being able to see the forest for the trees" as the conscious mind is besieged with the electrical activity. We interpret the activity as images or thoughts, from very vague "senses" through to "lightening bolt" realizations of clarity depending on the brain structure (built by practice and experience over time).
"Emptying" the mind is placing attention on... something so abstract it can't be named. usually someone starts by focusing on a verse or image, then is able to focus on a non-mental experience like breathing, then "graduates" to "samadhi" which is a state of focus on *something* that can't be named or described. During this process, brain waves change. When samadhi is achieved, brain waves are mostly synchronized and of a particular frequency. It's not "nothing" nor is it "checking out" like being asleep. I suspect that if one could probe the brain one would find that activity in the frontal cortex (thinking about things) is synchronized with the more autonomic portions of the brain so that what is "thought about" in the frontal cortex is the "same" content as the autonomic portions."
Although many from the West associate these ideas with the East, similar applications can be found in various practices, cultures, religions, peoples throughout the world - "the drumming of Africa, the rocking and chanting of Judaism, the endurance dances of the plains Indians..." - just to name a few.

While I had already previously named this series of blog posts "mind over foot", in some ways "foot over mind" could be equally if not more appropriate.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 8

A quick summary of notable kicking during the eighth week of the 2009 college football season:
Crimson Tide senior kicker Leigh Tiffin made four FGs (38, 50, 22, and 49 yards), and Volunteers junior kicker Daniel Lincoln 44 yard FG attempt on the final play was blocked by NG Terrence Cody (his second blocked FG of the game), as Alabama held on for a 12-10 win over Tennessee.

Junior kicker Jacob Branstetter made a 57 yard FG as the first half expired in Kansas' loss to Oklahoma. 

Sophomore kicker Sean Kelley's 38-yard FG with 4:40 remaining in the game gave UC Davis a 34-31 win over Portland State.

Sophomore kicker John Potter's 28-yard FG in overtime gave Western Michigan a 34-31 win over Buffalo. 

Senior kicker Stefan Demos hit a 19 yard field goal with 21 seconds left to cap Northwestern's big rally for a 29-28 win over Indiana. 

Freshman kicker Justin Garelick made a 21-yard FG with 1:55 remaining in the game as Texas State defeated Northwestern State 20-17. 

Sophomore kicker Tommy Kowalick hit a 22 yard FG with four minutes remaining as Salisbury University won 19-16 over Union.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NFL Week Six K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week six of the 2009 season: 

This past weekend saw several potential game winning field goal attempts, with mixed results. Josh Scobee won it for Jacksonville in overtime. With  the score tied, Rian Lindell came up wide on the final play in regulation for the Bills, however he got another shot in overtime and was good for the win. Steve Hauschka also came up wide on the final play of the fourth quarter for the Ravens, however they were trailing by two at the time and the game ended thus. This week's quotes discuss Hauschka's miss from a variety of perspectives and story lines. 

In the post-game press conference, Steve Hauschka answered several questions regarding the kick:
"We had the range as soon as we made that first down. I figured I would be kicking a field goal. 55 yards was definitely in the range today.... I thought I hit it pretty good on my foot. I looked up and it was going left, so I was disappointed. There were a lot of plays in the game, but I think our team put up a good fight out there. I will just have to get the next one.... I have [previously had a pressure kick]. I made it. It was definitely disappointing to miss this one."
During the presser, head coach John Harbaugh answered a few general questions related to the field goal attempt, however he elaborated the day afterwards:
"The snap was not perfect. The kick was not perfect. So it didn't go through. We all try to do as good a job as we can to help our kicker make a kick. And the thing you've got to remember about that is we knew from Day One that our young kicker was going to miss a kick. And we were also pretty sure that it was going to come during a hugely critical moment. And there's no guarantee that any kicker is going to make any kick in any situation. And it's painful. Because if he had knocked that thing through the uprights, we'd all be going, 'We've got our kicker!' Well, we believe we've got our kicker. We've seen enough of him to believe that he's going to be our kicker. In the end, do we know? Only he can handle that, and he gets a little help from his holder and his snapper and his protection and his coach, and we see where it goes from there. That's the best we can do. We've got a lot of confidence in him. He's talented, he's a great kid, he works hard. Let's see what happens."
The kicker on the other sideline was Ryan Longwell for Minnesota. He had previously worked with Hauschka when the latter spent training camp with the Vikings during his rookie year in 2008. Longwell offered some words of wisdom, similar to those he himself received from a certain quarterback that still hasn't retired:
"We worked out a lot together and I kind of taught him a lot and got him ready for his chance in Baltimore. So, you know, you just feel for the guy. We [NFL kickers] are all in a unique position that the game can come down to one kick.... I just said [to Steve after the game], 'Well, how you bounce back from this will determine the rest of your career'. So, hopefully he bounces back and has a good game and kind of learns from this.... We've all been there, and you understand the situation and you understand what it takes to come through, and you know how he bounces back from this will determine the rest of his career. We've all been there, and the good ones bounce back. So, I just wish him the best that he can bounce back and have a solid year for them."
The other name woven within this story is of course Matt Stover. When the Ravens opted not to resign him last off-season, many pointed to an unknown point in the future when Hauschka would miss a big kick. The future arrived on Sunday, and as expected, Stover's name was everywhere. In fact, it appears he received significantly more media attention from Hauschka's miss than he did when he signed with the Colts last week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fred Mitchell 1 - Over the Wire

Since 1992, the top college kickers in Division I-A have been recognized each year by the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. Unfortunately, that left nearly four hundred kickers in Divisions II and III without potential formalized recognition at a national level. That has been rectified this year with the creation of the Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place-Kicker Award. We had the opportunity to speak with Fred Mitchell regarding the award and a wide variety of kicking topics. We'll come back to discuss the specifics of the new award later, but for now we start at the beginning... in Gary Indiana, circa 1955.

Going back to your kicking career, what is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball of any sort?
"When I was seven years old my father bought me a football and a tee. I grew up in Gary Indiana and there was an empty lot behind our house. I began kicking from my back yard to the empty lot, and back and forth. Initially there was just the telephone wire in the alley between the two lots. I would try to get enough height to kick it over the telephone wire. Then I advanced, if you can call it that, to the point of erecting a makeshift goalpost in the empty lot (it was like a sandlot). People used to get new carpets wrapped around bamboo poles. We had that happen, so I used two bamboo poles as the uprights for a goalpost – stuck them in the sand in the open lot. I used one of my mother’s clotheslines for the crossbar. That was my makeshift goalpost and I would spend hours kicking the ball back and forth."
During his high school career, Mitchell's role was both unique and relatively new:
"I skipped the fifth grade, so I was much younger than my classmates. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was a skinny kid at the time – maybe six feet and a 150 pounds, when I was 14 years old and a sophomore. I was kicking in gym class outside from about second base over a high fence that we had in right field on the baseball diamond. The physical education teacher, who happened to be the head football coach (Bob Stearnes), was watching me and said ‘you’re gonna be on out football team’. This was 1962. So he put me on the varsity right away. There weren’t kicking specialists, especially at the high school level, back then like there are nowadays. Most schools would run for the extra point. So he listed me as a six foot, 150 pound tackle in the program initially to try to fool the opponent into not knowing that I would be a kicker. Our team wasn’t really that good, but I won maybe three games on field goals in my short career there."
Heading out of high school in search of the right college, Mitchell weighed various factors before making a final decision:
"After graduating I visited several schools. I had a chance to walk on at Indiana - met with John Pont. I had an offer from Brown University and got letters from Northwestern and some bigger schools. Back then there was a window of time in all sports in major college where you could not play varsity as a freshman. I visited Wittenberg University on the advice of a work colleague (of my father's) who had gone to Wittenberg. I knew that they had a great academic program as well as a football tradition. In fact, during the 1960s Wittenberg was sort of like the Mount Union of today, in terms of dominating small college football. They had won 30 straight games. During the decade of the 60’s they had the best winning percentage of any college at any level. More importantly to me at that point was the fact that you play varsity as a freshman if you were good enough. The coach there was Bill Edwards, who is now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He had previously been head coach of the Detroit Lions in 1941 and 1942. He had been an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns and worked with Lou Groza. He was a very charismatic personality and I really liked the atmosphere at the university. As a kicker you want to certainly go somewhere where you have an opportunity to get a lot of kicking attempts. I knew that they were a high scoring team and a winning program, so I was convinced that that was the best fit for me."
In the next segment of the interview, we'll discuss the big results while attending the small school.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 7

A quick summary of notable kicking during the seventh week of the 2009 college football season:
Senior kicker Zack Harris' 31 yard FG with one second remaining gave Wittenberg a 10-7 win over Wabash. Wittenberg is of course no stranger to kicking success, as will be further discussed in a series of blog posts beginning this week.

Although sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis made a career long 51 yard FG in the third quarter, his biggest kick of the game was a 27 yard FG with 9 seconds remaining, as Florida avoided the upset and won 23-20 over Arkansas.

Senior kicker Matt Hottleman's 37 yard FG with 36 seconds gave Missouri State a 17-16 victory over Western Illinois.

Sophomore kicker Carson Wiggs made FGs of 32, 27, 55 and 49 yards in Purdue's 26-18 win over Ohio State

Senior kicker Hunter Lawrence's 32 yard FG with 12:08 remaining proved to be the final margin of victory in Texas' 16-13 win over Oklahoma

Senior kicker Mike Salerno's 42 yard FG attempt with 40 seconds left was blocked as Toledo held on for a 20-19 win over Northern Illinois.

Freshman kicker Evan Engwall made a 35 yard FG with three seconds remaining to give Stephen F. Austin a 33-30 win over Central Arkansas

Senior kicker Garrett Rolsma made a 44 yard FG with 32 seconds left to give Central Washington a 23-21 win over Western Oregon. 

Junior kicker Joe Buckley made a 24 yard FG in overtime to give Navy 38-35 victory over Southern Methodist. 

Sophomore kicker Kienan Cullen's three FGs was all that Murray State needed in their 9-6 win over Tennessee State.

Kicking with Kevin Lovell

In the first two segments of our interview with Kevin Lovell, we discussed the UFL and soccer. In the third and final segment we talk kicking in general.
Looking back over your career so far, is there any particular kick that stands out as the biggest one?
“I remember a couple kicks. I’ll always remember the game winner I hit against Minnesota in the first preseason game with the St. Louis Rams. I’ll always remember that. And then I’ll always remember playing at Ohio State – the first ever game of my career. I had the only points in the game. I’ll always remember as I was getting ready to hit a field goal, my holder looked back at me and said something to me. He was like two yards away, and I couldn’t hear a word he was saying because it was so loud. That’s something I’ll never forget, thinking, ‘Wow, this is absolutely crazy’.”
On a less positive note, is there a miss that stands out as the biggest one?
“Well, I never missed a game winner. So if there were a miss it would have been one of those. I missed two field goals at Louisville my senior year and we lost by five points. I would say those two would stand out amongst all others.”
What goes through your mind during the actual process of a kick?
“I try not to think about anything. You train so hard, and you train so mentally hard, and you try to fine tune your tools for kicking. By the time it gets to a game and you get out there and kick, there really shouldn’t be much to think about. With me it’s always been, if you’re thinking about something then you’re not concentrating on the kick. I just try not to think about anything, and I just go out do what I’ve been training to do.”
Name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize.
“How hard it is to actually kick. Everybody in camp hates the kicker. Everybody in camp wants to be the kicker, until there’s two seconds on the clock in a game and then no one wants to be the kicker. Everyone thinks kicking is pretty easy, but it’s actually a lot harder than it looks. That’s why there are only 32 guys in the world at the highest level that are on a team. It’s one of the toughest jobs you can have.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speaking Colts and Saintspeak

In Indianapolis, accomplished kicker Adam Vinatieri underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. The Colts consequently signed accomplished kicker Matt Stover. Head Coach Jim Caldwell discussed the situation:
“[Adam] wanted to fight through it, since he’s a real warrior, but we felt the best way to handle the situation was go ahead and get it operated on and straightened out. We knew if we got it done now it gave us an extra week with the bye week, as opposed to letting it linger and pop up later this year.... Matt is a true professional in everything he does and how he conducts his business. We competed against him a number of times over the years, so we know what type of craftsman he is.”
“The opportunity for me to come and be with a team such as the Indianapolis Colts is just a great privilege for me.... I’ve always said if I can’t kick a 52-yard field goal then I won’t kick. So I’ve been able to kick 52-yard field goals, we worked that out in the workout yesterday. I had a great opportunity in Baltimore for all those years, I have nothing bad to say there. I wish them all the best. But when it comes down to it, I’m a Colt today and I’m here to help the team get to a Super Bowl.... That’s what I’m priding myself on, to go out there and make all the field goals I can, making sure if the game comes down to a game-winning field goal, they can depend on me and I’ve got their trust."
In New Orleans, the Saints reinstated Garret Hartley who finished serving his four game suspension. They also decided to keep John Carney on the roster. Head coach Sean Payton discussed the situation in a press conference today:
How will you handle the kicking situation going forward?
“We’ll see. Obviously we have two kickers and a punter now. We’ll see as the week goes on. John [Carney] has done a good job with location. We’re not announcing anything yet, but we feel good about the combination that we’ve been working with so we’ll see as this week progresses.”
What was Garrett doing during his suspension and what contact were you allowed to have with him?
“None really. I think he traveled some and stayed in shape and worked on his kicking, but that’s really on the player’s own time.”
What entered into your thought process to keep both kickers?
“Just with the way that John was performing, we felt that his consistency and Thomas [Morstead’s] kickoffs have been encouraging.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NFL Week Five K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week five of the 2009 season:
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Denver beat New England in over time on a field goal. Matt Prater discussed his game winning 41 yarder:
"I was waiting for the opportunity. I was hoping to get it last week [against Dallas] but we got it this week. I think it's awesome for Lonie [Paxton], to get a win like that against his old team.... I didn't have my best game, I was just lucky to get that situation at the end to kind of redeem myself."
For the Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 40 yard attempt in the third quarter. He lamented afterward:
“This one hurts a little bit, it’s the first time in a long time I’ve missed a kick and feel like it’s hurt the outcome of a game. It’s just a little tough to swallow.... It didn’t really dawn on me until [after Prater's kick] that I really could have helped the team a lot more if I would have made that kick. It definitely hurts a little more after the fact. I don’t let it bother me during the game because I’d be doing a disservice to the team, because it just as easily could have been me out there making that kick in overtime. It’s something that happens sometimes. It’s not something you plan for, but you have to be able to deal with it and be tough enough to move on."
A day later, Gostkowski was working on moving onwards:
“I knew what I was getting into when I signed up to play and to kick. That’s part of what you have to go through, and I won’t think twice about it after today. I’ve gone and looked at it. It’s not going to affect the way I practice next week or I kick next week. Each week is different. You feel different. It’s just something that happens. You deal with the good and the bad.”
Another overtime winner was Dallas over Kansas City. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs could have taken the lead, but Ryan Succop's 53 yard field goal attempt was blocked. Long snapper Thomas Gafford discussed the play:
“They’ve never tried to jump over people before, so we never saw it coming. The protection we use and our technique is to try to get low and get under them because they try to get under you. That left us susceptible to the jump. [Guard] Mike Goff and I didn’t know what happened. Nobody hit us. We didn’t know how the field goal got blocked.... We’ll have to look at some things and see if we need to make some adjustments. It’s hard to swallow because we didn’t know it was coming. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not the coach. I’m a player.”
The Cleveland at Buffalo scoring was as football should be... nothing but a few field goals. Browns punter Dave Zastudil played a key role in keeping the game that way, repeatedly placing punts inside the twenty. Safety Mike Adams commented:
"Dave was outstanding. He gets so much hang time on the ball that Josh [Cribbs] and I are just down there, waiting for the ball to come down."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Home Grown Soccer Style Kickers

When football partially rediscovered its futbol origins in the 1960's via soccer style kickers, it had to go to Europe to find players. Pete Gogolak, credited with being the first of the soccer stylers, was born in Budapest Hungary. Garo Yepremian, of 'I keek a touchdown' fame, was born in Larnaca Cyprus. Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud came from Fetsund Norway.
Soccer style kicking soon became the standard rather than just a fad, and since then soccer itself has grown in popularity as a participant sport in the United States. Consequently, American football teams no longer have to outsource the kicker position. In the second segment of our interview with Kevin Lovell, he discussed his soccer origins while growing up in California.
What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball (not necessarily a football, but any type of ball)?
“It goes back to probably when I was five or six years old when I started playing soccer. Soccer was my actual dream until I got to high school in my senior year. I kicked a football and realized that there was so much… there’s nothing like playing in front of a hundred thousand people and they’ll all screaming at you on one kick, whereas in soccer you’re getting a lot of fans but it’s a team effort and everyone’s screaming at the team. I just like the pressure that was put on you in those type situations and the thrill of kicking a game winning field goal. There’s just nothing like it!”
How did the switchover from soccer to football come about? Did you go that direction or did they come seek you out?
“I had a couple buddies in high school who played football. I wanted to play football in my freshman, sophomore year, my junior year, but my dad wouldn’t let me. He played some football when he was younger and he had knee problems. He said “I won’t let you play unless you’re a kicker’. I was like ‘Oh man, I don’t want to be a kicker’. So I just played soccer. Then my senior year came about and a couple of buddies were talking in one of my classes, and they said ‘Kevin, you know our kicker graduated and we don’t have one. We’re looking for one… you should come tryout’. I gave it like a week, and then I approached the coach, “Hey, I heard you guys need a kicker?’ They were like, “Yea, why don’t you come today after school’. I had never kicked a football before. I thought maybe they were going to give me a week to kick a little bit, but I went out and hit four and five balls and they said ‘The jobs yours.’ It just kind of took off.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 6

A quick summary of notable kicking during the sixth week of the 2009 college football season:
Junior kicker Dan Hutchins made an 18 yard FG on the final play of Pitt's 24-21 comeback win over Connecticut.

Senior kicker Tyler McNamara's 18 yard FG with 10:15 remaining gave Bentley a 17-14 win over Southern Connecticut.

Senior kicker Ryan Payne made a 32 yard FG with 30 seconds remaining in Louisville's 25-23 win over Southern Miss.

Senior kicker Leigh Tiffin went 5 of 5 on FGs in Alabama's 22-3 win over Ole Miss.

Junior kicker and defensive back Patrick Rooney kicked a 34-yard FG with 3 seconds left in Brown's 34-31 upset victory over Holy Cross.

Sophomore kicker Alex Carlton made a 42 yard FG in overtime as Army beat Vanderbilt 16-13.

Sophomore kicker Kyle Hughes made a 28 yard FG as time expired to lift New Mexico State to a 20-17 win over Utah State.

Freshman kicker Alexander Wymore's 37 yard FG with 37 seconds remaining gave Hardin-Simmons a 13-10 win over East Texas Baptist.

Sophomore kicker Garrett Lindholm booted a school record 55 yard FG as time expired to give Tarleton State a 31-28 victory over Midwestern State.

Freshman kicker Kory Kowalski's 40 yard FG with 2:12 remaining gave Bethune-Cookman a 9-7 victory over Delaware State and their first win of the year.

Friday, October 9, 2009

UFL vs. NFL Kicking

The inaugural UFL season is now underway, and one of the big questions is how does the kicking game compare to the NFL?

One of the broader similarities, which is also one of the unfortunate realities for kickers, coincidentally surfaced as this blog post was being pulled together. At every level of football there is a large number of kickers competing for very few jobs. Many, and probably most, coaches prefer to go with an experienced veteran over the potential of a younger kicker. The Florida Tuskers did just that yesterday - releasing Kevin Lovell who had been with them throughout training camp and signing NFL veteran Matt Bryant. I had previously contacted Kevin to do an interview. Extra special thanks to him for still agreeing to answer some questions, despite having just been informed of his release earlier in the day.
Lovell had a highly successful college career, first at El Camino Junior College and then at the University of Cincinnati. He has been in two NFL training camps - St. Louis in 2007 and Atlanta in 2008. Following is the transcript from the UFL portion of our conversation.

Were there any notable differences between the different training camps you’ve been through with the UFL, NFL, and NCAA?
“Back in college, the level of intensity steps it up a notch at each level. I would say that here [UFL] the level of intensity matches the NFL. Here in Florida, everybody on the team has either been in an NFL camp or was an NFL veteran. Everything that everyone did was top notch. I would say there wasn’t really too much of a difference at all.”
Are there any rule differences between UFL and NFL relative to the kicking game?
“There are some on offense and defense, but none that impact the kicking game – which is nice because you don’t have to learn anything new.”
Does the UFL use new out-of-the-box K-balls in games?
“We talked to the refs about that a couple weeks ago. We were using the Wilson balls that they use in college – the GST. Then they switched to an NFL ball (with the UFL logos and everything on it) which is nice because it gives the ball a better chance of being broken in.”
Postscript: best wishes to Kevin on his search for a coaching staff willing to go with the younger less experienced kicker, and good luck to Matt who saw far more than his share of bad luck last year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NFL Week Four K Quotes

Notable kicking quotes from around the NFL following week four of the 2009 season:

While the battle for Ohio was not necessarily a thing of beauty, the kicking game played an important role. The teams battled to a tie in regulation. With 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Browns opted to punt rather than attempt a 57 yard field goal. Cleveland head coach Eric mangini commented on the decision:
“With Billy [Cundiff], he has a nice leg. If it was Phil [Dawson], it may be a little bit different. That doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence [in Billy]. That field goal was a pretty low percentage. I would have liked to gotten a few more yards. If we had a play before and then take a shot at it, but weren’t able to do that.”
The Bengals failed to score on two opportunities during regulation, as a field goal and an extra point attempt were blocked. Both appeared to be the result of poor snaps by veteran long snapper Brad St. Louis. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis commented:
“We have to do better. Brad is aware that we have to do a lot better in special teams, in a bunch of different areas. So, we’ll work hard at that. That’s kind of where we are there.... Like anything else, as a professional, you have to let that go and you have to go on to the next one. It’s not different from other individual sports, which (long-snapping) can be like at times. You’re going to have to not worry about the last one and get the next one right where it needs to be, and be consistent with it. I’m confident Brad will pull out of this and get back to being very, very consistent.”
The Bengals eventually won the game, on a 31 yard FG by Shayne Graham with four seconds remaining in overtime. He discussed his thinking during the kick in light of the prior blocks:
“The only thing I think about on any kick I ever attempt is the part of the ball I am going to kick. I have a rhythm, I have a routine I do on every kick and whether that was any extra point, field goal or a game winner, my job is to kick it the same. There’s nothing I can do to make anything any different from that kick to keep someone from blocking it. My job is to kick it the best I can and really stick with my focus and kick the ball clean and not worry about who is going to block it.”
After Washington Redskins punter Hunter Smith strained his groin during Sunday's game, kicker Shaun Suisham took over the punting duties. Smith said of Suisham:
"I thought he did a very courageous thing and a great job today by going out there. To play a position where you don't use your hands, you don't have the ball skills, and to step out there and do the job he did it was a very good job. He helped our team today and he's one of the big reasons why we won."
On the other side of the field in the game at Washington, Mike Nugent's struggles continued as he missed two more field goals. That was enough to lead Tampa Bay to tryout Brandon Coutu and Shane Andrus yesterday. The Buccaneers subsequently signed Andrus and released Nugent. Head coach Raheem Morris commented:
"The only thing that really matters about a kicker is the result. You either make them or you miss it. The snap looked good, it was down on time. He missed two field goals. It was a windy day. I'm not going to sit here and make any excuses for anybody. Their kicker made kicks in the wind, ours have to make kicks in the wind."
Further west along the Gulf Coast, the Saints have a pending kicker decision following their bye, now that Garrett Hartley's four game suspension is done. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton hinted that the team might keep both Hartley and John Carney on the roster:
"There's a good chance that we'd do that. I think John Carney has done a great job. He brings a lot to the table with his experience. Obviously Thomas Morstead has done a great job as a punter and kickoff guy."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Big Kickers on Campus, week 5

A quick summary of notable kicking during the fifth week of the 2009 college football season:

After a week of battling to keep his job, junior kicker Joe Buckley's 38 yard FG in overtime gave Navy a 16-13 victory over Air Force.

Senior kicker Ross Thevenot's 23 yard FG with 2:20 remaining gave Tulane a 17-16 victory over Army.

Junior kicker Jason Vitaris' 29 yard FG in overtime gave Appalachian State a 30-27 win over The Citadel

Senior kicker Russell Gliadon's school-record 49 yard field goal with three seconds remaining gave Saint John’s University a 16-14 win over Bethel.

Sophomore kicker David Lang's 37 yard FG with one second remaining gave Butler a 25-24 win over San Diego.

Freshman kicker Adam Shreiner made a 37 yard go-ahead FG with two seconds remaining in Elon's 19-12 win over Furman

Sophomore kicker Grant Mahoney's tying PAT attempt with 32 seconds remaining was blocked, and Kansas State held on for a 24-23 victory over Iowa State.