the study of all things kicker related

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mind Over Foot, part 3 - Travis Dorsch

When Travis Dorsch kicked  a state record 63 yard field goal for Bozeman High School in Montana, he did so through goal posts that were 23 feet 4 inches wide. His school record 69 career field goals for Purdue University were through uprights 18 feet 6 inches apart - the same dimension also used in the NFL and the CFL. In the various indoor football leagues the goal posts are typically 9 or 10 feet wide. But those are all merely precise numbers using the U.S.customary system of measurements. It does not account for how wide the goal posts seem to an individual standing on the football field having tried to kick a football through them. That question was considered when Dorsch returned to Purdue, where he earned a Masters and is presently working on his Doctorate in Kinesiology, specializing in Sport and Exercise Psychology. Last year he co-authored a study looking at whether someone's success, or lack thereof, at kicking a football through the uprights impacted their perception of how wide the goal posts were.

Anecdotally, many athletes claim to perceive their sport-specific targets as bigger on days that they perform better. For example, baseball players in the midst of a hitting spree say the ball looks as big as a grapefruit. Golfers dropping birdie after birdie relate the size of the cup to a bucket. In contrast, on bad days, athletes claim that they are swinging at aspirins or putting to the inside of a doughnut. Recent empirical research suggests these experiences are not just hyperbole, but reflect a psychological reality....
Field goal kicking performance influenced perceived size of the field goal posts. The uprights looked farther apart and the crossbar looked lower to people who made more successful kicks, demonstrating a relationship between performance and perception. Although perceived size is mainly a factor of optical information, which was available at the time that participants made their estimates, perceived size is also influenced by the perceiver's performance on a given task....
Another interesting finding in the current experiment reveals that the manner in which participants missed kicks related to how they perceived the field goal posts. Participants who missed their kicks wide perceived the uprights as narrower. Similarly, participants who missed their kicks short, perceived the crossbar as higher off the ground. This result demonstrates a level of specificity, namely that perceptual effects occur according to where performance excels and where inadequacies exist.
We spoke to Travis Dorsch, discussing the study along with a few other matters of the mind.
After having done the research, did that reinforce or help to explain any memories from your own kicking career?
"It was probably a bit isolated from my career. For our study we were looking at novice kickers and they were kicking extra points. I guess in a way maybe it brought back, at least anecdotally, some memories, but the research didn’t really pertain to the feeling of big time college kicking or professional kicking. I guess it’s a two part answer – yes and no. It was cool to research something that was familiar to me. That part was definitely enjoyable. I think to some extent it was a bit eye opening, some of the results that we saw."
The article poses the question of a possible predictive effect for expert kickers, as opposed to novices… are you doing any further research along those lines?
"Not actively. Dr. Witt has a pretty intense research agenda, and she’s looking at these effects across a wide variety of sports and athletic endeavors. I would like to procure a sample of expert kickers, but unfortunately it’s so hard to do. To be an expert you would have to consider someone who is a collegiate or professional kicker, and really there’s not a lot of them out there. You’d have to put together a large enough sample size where you could actually draw some inferences from the data. It’s on the back burner now, but that’s something I’d love to do if we could get access to that population."
Have you since heard any feedback or comments from any collegiate or professional kickers on the study?
"I don’t know that any of those people have read it. In the scientific community it’s got pretty good play, and in the media it’s got pretty good play. I’ve talked to a number of media outlets that have picked the story up. They want to talk about the results and the potential implications for real life kickers, but I don’t know that it’s been read by any of the guys out there."
I recently read an article noting that some NFL kickers like to practice with narrower arena-size goal posts so that on game day the real regulation posts look that much larger, while other kickers prefer during practice to try to simulate exactly actual game conditions and not change anything around. What are your thoughts on that?
"There’s two distinct schools of thought. The first, I would say that what those kickers are doing, who are practicing on those smaller posts, is basically creating the effect that we’ve researched. On game day they’re creating the effect of the uprights seeming wider, because they’ve trained their brains to think and see and feel small uprights. And then they get out there on the game day field, and now they’re wider. Falsely they’ve sort of created this perception that the uprights are wider, when in fact they’re actually the same as they’d see in any other game, or practice if they used the normal posts. I think there’s some merit to that. I also think there’s some merit, not perceptively, but just mentally in general to having the ability to practice on exactly what you’re going to play on. I don’t think either is correct or incorrect - it just depends on the kicker. I think that both are strategies you can use to prepare yourself for game day."
When I ask most kickers ‘what’s going through their mind right before and during a kick’ they usually say ‘hopefully nothing’. How does a kicker clear their mind… are there any tricks they or you use to do that?
"I think those that clear the mind comes from the ultimate confidence of being able to perform your task. A lot of novices, such as when you get up there on the golf tee right on the first tee, you’re thinking about all the things that can go wrong – don’t hook it, don’t slice it, don’t dribble it off the bottom of your club to the women’s tee. Basically in your mind you’re putting all these negative visualizations. On the other side of that spectrum, a lot of people believe that when you get out there to perform your task - whether it’s a field goal, a punt, or whatever - you shut your eyes, take a deep breath, visualize the good that can happen; visual everything happening perfectly and then perform the task. Then there’s that third school of thought like you just mentioned – get out there and let everything flush out. I think that ability comes from the ability to know that you’ve done this hundreds of thousands of times in practice and you don’t need to think. As an athlete, sometimes you can over think things. You just need to go out there and perform the rote muscle memories that you’ve worked so hard on in practice. I think you probably get that answer a lot from kickers in the NFL because like I said, with ten of thousands or hundreds of thousands of repetitions, they know all they have to do is react. As a punter you catch the ball, you kick it. You don’t think. As a kicker you see the snap, you see the hold, you kick it. So it doesn’t surprise me that you get that answer about just not thinking - sort of being a blank slate."
Stay tuned later this week for the second part of our interview in which we discussed additional topics... including why I may need to start giving punters equal time to kickers.

This interview sponsored by the National Combine Series.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Garrett Hartley Describes It All

In the days since his game winning field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley has seemingly been everywhere - or at least his words have in the vast media machine. Along the way he's responded to a wide variety of questions on the entire time line of events.

"There's times in everyone's career when things are just not going to be perfect. Honestly for a while, and when you look at my suspension, to come back. And then I hit a game winner against Washington to bounce back. I missed that 37-yarder against Tampa. It's all a learning experience. I'm 23-years-old and I have a lot to learn. Just coming out here and trying to make up for my last mistake. I had to focus on it and see myself envision it was the most important part about today."
"People are saying premonition, I don't know what it was. I just call it a feeling. A random gut-check. I don't know what it was. I couldn't sleep too well that night, so I called my dad at 2 or 2:15 in the morning. I told him that I had a dream that I was gonna make a 42-yarder on the right hash mark. It was going to come down to that. But I missed it; it was a 40- yarder."
"It's funny how the game and all the things played out. I just kept thinking about is this really happening? It was kind of like never-never land. We go to OT and the ball is on the right hash at 40 yards. It was just an amazing feeling."
"I think [defensive lineman Anthony] Hargrove tried to come over to the kicking net. I just kind of just pointed my finger like, 'No, no, no, no - just leave me alone.' ''
"I just knew when it came off my foot that it was going to split the pipes."
"I just turned around and, I guess, put my hands up in the air and hugged [holder Mark] Brunell, just knowing that this team's headed to Miami now."
"I'm on the bottom of the pile getting smashed by hundreds of pounds of weight. It was 98 percent fun and 2 percent pain."
"Weird because I'm just this 5-foot-9 guy walking around with this long hair that apparently looks a little bit like a surfer." 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kickball

Soccer is by far the most common response, when I ask kickers about their earliest recollection of kicking any kind of ball. When I dredge my own memory, kickball comes to mind. Although I certainly kicked a ball of some sort at an earlier age, the one I recall is the red rubber ball used in the occasional game of kickball during recess in elementary school. Even more vivid were the special kickball events, in which an entire classroom would compete against a rival classroom. I remember waiting in line seemingly forever for my opportunity to make a quick out or whiff completely. I vaguely recall taking a line drive in the face - which probably explains more than a few things. I remember the new kid arriving in town. It was immediately apparent that he was the best athlete in our class and he was quickly dubbed Homerun Harry in kickball, despite the fact that his name wasn't Harry.

Of course nobody else really cares about any of that, except maybe for Harry, wherever he may be. Nonetheless, I decided to check if kickball was still alive, or if it had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Although it had not previously come up in conversation, my daughter confirmed that kickball was still an elementary recess activity. A quick Google search yielded a bigger answer in the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA). With hundreds of divisions throughout the U.S., plus one in London, it appears that kickball is definitely alive and well.

WAKA's mission statement: "To provide a unique club with an inclusive co-ed social culture and establish the WAKA Kickball experience as the New American Pastime ™!" Based on perusing their website, it appears that the social aspect is equally important. But that's not to say that they don't take their kicking seriously... The 2009 Official Rules of the Game (copyright as noted on page 1) includes the following:
1.01.b. The distance from home plate to second base and from first base to third base is 84 feet 10 1/4 inches or about 28 paces. The distance between any base and home plate shall be measured from the back corner of each.
3.06 The Head Referee must ensure that the team captains exchange their written scorebook kicking orders.
7.04 Teams must have at least four (4) men and four (4) women present and ready to play at the scheduled game time. Teams will be granted a 15 minute grace period for that day’s first scheduled game(s), and a 5 minute grace period for any subsequent scheduled game(s). Failure to abide by this rule results in a forfeit.
10.05 A tag-up is a requirement to retouch or stay on a base until a kicked then caught ball is first touched by a fielder. After a tag-up a runner may advance. A runner failing to tag-up as required is out.
16.01 Ghost men are not allowed.
I'd forgotten all about ghost men. The NFL may want to consider implementing ghost men for the Pro Bowl.

Last year, kickball garnered coverage from some of the larger media outlets. For more info, check out this CNN video "Kickball's not just for kids", ESPN article "A glimpse at the world of adult kickball", and USA Today article that looks at kickball along with two other intriguing alternative activities.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

And Then There Were Four...

As the NFL Conference Championships approach, the stakes get higher and the media coverage increases. Even kickers field lots of questions at this time of year. Of course this year, and this week in particular, the volume of questions has gone off the charts following the struggles of several kickers in recent weeks - most notably Nate Kaeding last week. Kickers whose season is already over and even kickers who have long since retired are being quizzed daily. But for the moment we'll take a quick look at recent interviews with the four who will still be kicking this Sunday.
The youngest of the four, Garrett Hartley of the Saints comments on the excitement of the situation:
“My experience from the Tampa game – it doesn’t always work out in your favor. You’ve just got to have the mindset like it is. You’re going to go out on the field and you’re going to be perfect and you’re going to go out and help your team.
It’s a pretty cool feeling, isn’t it? Just everything – coming back from the suspension, backing up John [Carney] for weeks and just getting my shot to help the team put up points and win games – I’m just excited that we’re playing in basically the Final Four, just on a bigger stage.”
In contrast, the Vikings' Ryan Longwell recalls his excitement during his rookie season and having learned to savor such rare opportunities:
"The ignorance of youth. My rookie year,  and I looked around and saw Brett Favre starting at quarterback and Reggie White at defensive end. And you think you are going to get back there every year, not realizing how difficult it is to win in the playoffs, let alone to get back to the Super Bowl.
None of us are above being the goat. It's what we sign up for. Part of the job is having ice water in your veins. There's no 'C' grade for a kicker. It' s either an 'A' or an 'F.'"
The Colts' Matt Stover, the elder statesman of the group, has a simple plan based on many years of experience:
"I plan on making them all. That's my plan.... It's a little bit more pressure. The parity in the league is tighter even than it is during the regular season so you know that every extra point, every field goal matters. I've always thrived on that. The offenses I came from in Baltimore, every point did matter. It wasn't like we were beating people 38-10 so I've been accustomed to that type of kicking where everything matters. You can't miss. So that's what it really comes down to and God willing, we'll perform on Sunday."
Also stemming from a previous experience - a triple-miss bad day - Jets kicker Jay Feely understands where Kaeding is at the moment, and where he needs to go:
"What you have to understand is that you can't fear failure. When you go through something like that - and you see that it won't destroy you - you see that you can perform up to your ability. And the way you succeed is by focusing on the process instead of the end result. Once you start to focus on the end result, your mind can start wondering."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ryan Longwell Interview

Earlier this season we had a chance to talk with Minnesota Vikings' kicker Ryan Longwell. We kept the questions focused on everybody's favorite topic - kicking (if you thought I was going to say Brett Favre, then you're reading the wrong blog). We concluded with a question on the big controversy (if you thought it would be Tiger Woods, then you're reading the wrong blog).

What is your earliest memory of kicking a ball - any ball?
I remember collecting the mini footballs they threw out at halftime of the high school games and using those to kick in my backyard after school.

Why/how did you become a kicker?
I had played soccer growing up and kicking was the part of the game that intrigued me the most.

What goes through your mind during the various stages of a kick?
For me it's all routine and rhythm...

What goes through your mind at the moment you realize the kick is good?
I analyze it quickly with how the process felt and if the ball moved in the air and then that one is over with. I get it out of my mind.

What goes through your mind at the moment you realize the kick has missed?
The same as a good kick.

Could you estimate how many times a year (off-season, training camp, regular season) you kick a ball? How may of those include the long snapper and holder?
I usually hit about 40-50 kicks a week during the season with my snapper and holder...we hit 20 or so during the days we kick in minicamps. Other than that, I only kick a few times by myself during the offseason...I think you can get really bad habits by just using the tri-pod to kick.

Field goal accuracy across the league has gradually improved over the years. What do you think may have led to this?
It's a more specialized position now, and teams that want to win tend to leave the kicker, holder, snapper combination together from year to year so there is no learning curve in starting each year.  Plus games are so close now in the league you need a proven guy who can make the ones he's supposed to.

Name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don't realize.
How hard we work out for our job.  And how much pressure there really is on every time we go out on the field...not just those last second kicks.

Do you have any good stories of doctored balls prior to the introduction of the K-ball?
Not really...just re-using balls from previous games so they would be broken in more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The 2010 "Off"- Season

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, it may seem like another football season is almost over, but there will still be plenty of football and consequently kicking in the so-called off-season:

NCAA College football
East-West Shrine Game: January 23rd at 3 p.m. EST
- East squad: kicker Joshua Shene (Mississippi) and punter Jeremy Boone (Penn State) 
- West squad: kicker Hunter Lawrence (Texas) and punter Robert Malone (Fresno State)
Under Armour Senior Bowl: January 30th at 4 p.m. EST
- Kicker Leigh Tiffin (Alabama) and punter Zoltan Mesko (Michigan)
Texas vs. The nation All-Star game: February 6th at 2 p.m. EST
- Texas squad: K Josh Arauco (Arkansas State) and P Miek Brandtner (Iowa State)
- Nation  squad: K Aaron Pettrey (Ohio State) and P Brent Bowden (Virginia Tech)
Pro Days Workouts: primarily in March

National Football League (NFL)
NFL Scouting Combine: February 24th - March 2nd
  Kickers:
  - Aaron Pettrey, Ohio State
  - Brett Swenson, Michigan State
  - Leigh Tiffin, Alabama
  Punters
  - Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech
  - Matt Dodge, East Carolina
  - Robert Malone, Fresno State
  - Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
  - Scott Ravanesi, Southern Illinois
Free agent signing period begins March 5th
NFL Draft: April 22-24
Minicamps and OTAs: primarily May & June

Canadian Football League (CFL)
CFL Evaluation Camp, March 12th -14th
CFL Draft: TBA

Indoor Football Leagues
Arena Football 1 (AF1): season kicks off on April 2nd.
- Kickoff Classic (expansion Richmond team vs. league all-stars) this Saturday January 23rd
- Regular season kicks off in March
Indoor Football League (IFL): season kicks off on March 13th
Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL): season kicks off in March
Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL): season kicks off on March 13th 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Divisional Sunday: Nate Kaeding

After an impressive year of kicking - including career best statistics, various accolades, and surpassing Mike Vanderjagt as the most accurate kicker ever - Nate Kaeding's season came to an end yesterday at the other end of the spectrum. As an understatement, he had a bad day. Although the missed 57 yard field goal attempt just before halftime was literally and figuratively a long shot, the misses from 36 and 40 yards were significant in light of the Chargers 17-14 loss to the Jets. Following the game, Kaeding didn't avoid the press conference and responded to all the obvious questions:
“I’ve had one of these rested on my shoulders before. Professionally, it’s a tough thing to get through. I’m not gonna feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for my teammates, coaches and support staff here. I feel like I let everybody down. It’s going to be a tough few months, but if you relish the good part, you‘ve gotta work through the bad as well. It’ll be tough. I’ll let this rest, then pick up the pieces... If you play this game and can only accept it when it goes well, you’re in the wrong business, especially in my position. You’re going to miss some, unfortunately. Some days like this will come. My really bad days have been untimely ones.”
Kaeding also commented on the inevitable comparisons to the playoff overtime loss to the Jets during his rookie season:
"I don't know if there's a whole lot of irony from my standpoint. But obviously (they were) two tough games personally, and for the team. It's my responsibility to put points on the board and it was the difference today."
The barage of questions was of course not limited to just Kaeding himself. Both head coaches were quizzed about the missed field goals. The Chargers' Norv Turner responded:
"I’m not going to put it all on Nate. We’ve had a lot of guys that have had career years that have plays that they would like to have the outcome different."
While the Jets' Rex Ryan commented: 
"It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen."
Also weighing in was Kaeding's team mate, punter Mike Scifres who also serves as the holder on placekicks:
“You don’t want to keep on about it. You just let him deal with it, let him get through it. Nate’s as tough as anybody mentally. Just let him be and he’ll get through this.”
The opposing kicker, the Jets' Jay Feely, expressed similar sentiments on how to move onward from a particularly bad day:
"You take it and grow stronger from it."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some Things Change, Some Things Never Change

In the final segment of our interview with Fred Mitchell, we take a look at the big picture of football kicking. Many things have changed over the last four decades. What differences does he see in the kicking game today as compared to when he played?

"There are some notable differences. First of all, I give all the credit in the world to the soccer style technique, but I also think there’s some other advantages – most notably the fact that the hashmarks have been brought in towards the center of the field, much closer than they were when we were playing in the 60’s. I don’t know the exact distance, but it’s pretty significant. Back in the 60’s and earlier if you had a field goal attempt, even a shorter attempt, from a pretty wide angle that’s something that you had to factor in. Whereas now there’s very little angle. In the NFL game they’re even closer together – I think they’re about the width of the goalposts.
Another thing is the surfaces. I never had the opportunity to kick off an artificial surface. Kickers today tell me it’s just like kicking off of a carpet. Rainy and muddy days aren’t as big a deal like they used to be. We had divots and other obstacles to overcome on a rainy, muddy day.

But having said that, the kickers are also better and the special teams emphasis is much greater now than it was. When I’m talking about special teams efforts, I’m talking about the center [snapper] and the holder. They spend much more time working on that sort of thing than we did. I got to work with the center and the holder one day a week, like on a Friday – the day right before our game we’d work as a unit in front of the team for maybe 15 or 20 minutes – and that was the extent of it. All kickers know that the timing between working with the holder and the center is crucial the success of the kick. I’ve talked to NFL kickers and holders now, and they talk about the fact that the centers are so good that they’re able to snap the ball so that the holder receives it with the laces automatically facing the goalposts - which is crucial for kickers, especially for longer kicks. I always had to remind my holder, ‘please try to spin the ball so that the laces are facing away from me’. Most of the time they were successful, but sometimes they were not. That would affect both the distance and the direction of the kick, if he was not able to do that. So these seemingly little things are second nature now to special teams’ units and that contributes to their improved success.”
Some things have remained essentially the same over the last four decades. When we asked Mr. Mitchell to name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize, his answer was the along the same lines as the answers of some current NFL kickers of whom we had asked that very same question.
"Most people don’t realize the mental toll and stress that’s involved. Kickers typically are the butt of jokes, in terms of not having to go through as much contact, and not having to do this or that. It’s similar to being a closer in baseball in that you come into the game and maybe you’ll only have one, two, or three attempts to make good. Of course if you make them then you’re doing your job and if you don’t then you’re considered a bomb. You want to contribute as well as you can. Whereas other positions you might make two or three bad plays in the game, but you get another chance to make up for that. With kickers it’s all or none. There’s no ‘nice try’, pat on the back type thing. It is either good or it’s not good. It’s a difficult thing to reconcile sometimes. It takes a bit of mental toughness, forgetting about your last kick, and going out and doing the job on the next one. You have no control over when you’re going to have a chance to kick or what the distance might be, so you just have to be physically ready at all times to come through.

Kickers are a vital part of the team, and they’re certainly appreciated when they come through. It’s not as easy as you think. I used to look at golfers on television and think what an easy job that looks like. Then you go out there and try to do yourself and you realize how much skill and focus it takes to be really good at it. That’s kind of the way I feel about kickers."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kickermania 2009

Excerpt from the final 2009 edition of Kickermania, a weekly crunching of NFL kicking numbers that can be found at Footballguys:


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wild Card Saturday

In yesterday afternoon's NFL Wild Card Game between the Jets and the Bengals, the two kickers played a prominent role - one in a good way, and one in a not-so-good way.

When New York punter Steve Weatherford had an elevated heart rate before game time, the Jets went to their backup punter - kicker Jay Feely. He was kept busy in the game, punting seven times in addition to his usual duties of kickoffs and placekicking. Although he only had a 31.4 average on punts, three of them pinned Cincinnati inside their own 20 (11, 6, and 12 yard line). Feely discussed his punting adventures:
"I never punted in the NFL. I had one punt in college. I may have punted one game in high school when our guy was sick. I was not very comfortable out there doing it.... My first thought was, 'Oh ---'. That was definitely the most nervous I have ever been in an NFL game on the first punt.... I think I'm bad enough that I'm a good pooch punter. The whole time all I wanted to do was catch it and get it off."
Last off-season, Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham. After a slow start to the season, he returned to his usually accuracy after the team changed long snappers. Yesterday however he missed both of his field goal attempts, a 35 yarder in the third quarter and a 28 yarder in the fourth quarter. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis commented afterward:
“There isn’t anything you can say about that. When you miss the field goal, you miss the field goal. It is a shame, and it killed us. Unfortunately, in this case, it is mostly a one-man operation, and that is the sad part of it. Shayne feels worse about it than anybody. Those points obviously make a big difference.”
While the misses obviously didn't help the Bengals chances of pulling out a win the game, they also don't help the prospects of Graham, a pending free agent.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bowling for Kickers

Now that the college football bowl games are complete, we take a quick look back at the kicking highlights:

Capital One Bowl: junior kicker Collin Wagner made four field goals (26, 18, 20, and 21 yards). The final one came with 57 seconds remaining and gave Penn State a 19-17 win over LSU. Wagner discussed kicking in a drenched sea of mud:
“You had to pretty much just go find a nice piece of grass (to practice). Even if if wasn't straight back from the snapper. Something you could plant your foot on. Or you pretty much had no chance.... It was one of those things you had to mentally tough-out or else there was no way you were going to be able to do it. This is the worst field I've ever played on.... I shortened my strides a good bit. Maybe a half yard.”
Meineke Car Care Bowl: junior kicker Dan Hutchins accounted for the majority of the Panthers scoring with field goals of 31, 31, 44, and 33 yards. The latter came with 52 seconds remaining and proved to be the game winner in Pittsburgh's 19-17 victory over North Carolina. Hutchins commented afterward:
"We've been through a ton of stuff, so we couldn't tumble under pressure. I came into this game wanting to have it on my shoulders, and I'm glad it was on me."
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: junior kicker Alex Henery contributed four field goals (47, 50, 41, and 22 yards) to Nebraska's 33-0 win over Arizona. Henery was unaware at the time that he had set a Holiday Bowl kicking record:
“I guess it was on the (big screen). I missed it. I wasn't paying attention.”
Outback Bowl: junior kicker Wes Byrum hit a 21 yard field goal in overtime to give Auburn a 38-35 win over Northwestern. Senior kicker Stefan Demos didn't fare as well for the opposition - missing a potential game winning 44 yarder at the end of regulation, missing a potential tying 37 yarder in overtime, and getting injured on the latter play. When Northwestern got one last final shot, they opted to run the fumblerooskie rather than going for a field goal with their backup kicker.

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins hit four field goals (26, 42, 22, and 37 yards) in Florida State's 33-21 win over West Virginia.

Rose Bowl: combining for four field goals, junior kicker Devin Barclay (19, 30, and 38 yards) and senior kicker Aaron Pettrey (45 yards) helped Ohio State to a 26-17 win over Oregon. Barclay noted afterward:
“It was two days ago that [coach Tressel] told me we were going to be sharing kicks. He was going to be taking extra points and field goals outside of 42 yards.... When you get that kind of win and you actually get to be a part of the win, it holds its own. I’m just very glad that [Pettrey] and I got to play together in the Rose Bowl.”
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: junior kicker Alex Tejada made a 37 yard field goal in overtime to give Arkansas a 20-17 win over East Carolina. He commented afterward:
"It feels good to come back here and nail it after everything. This team stayed behind me. These coaches they had faith in me. I never lost faith in myself."
GMAC Bowl: senior kicker Andrew Aguila was busy, among other things making five field goals (28, 35, 44, 42, and 37 yards). The latter was the game winner in the second overtime, as Central Michigan won 44-41 over Troy. Aguila said of the winning kick:
"They called a timeout to try and ice me, but that just gave me more time to relax."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

NFL Week Seventeen P Quotes

As a slight change of pace for the final week of the 2009 NFL regular season, we take a look at notable punting (rather than kicking) quotes from around the league.

The Raiders' Shane Lechler headed towards two NFL season records this year. He did set the new mark for net average with 43.9 yards, although he already owned the previous record. He came up short in the end on the other one for gross average. He ended the year with a 51.1 yard average - just shy of Sammy Baugh's record of 51.4 yards. Lechler commented:
“Oh, yeah, definitely was. I had one of my guys jump offsides on purpose, trying to get a little distance. Hell, yeah, I was shooting for it.... My punt team, my hat's off to them. We shattered the net record by leaps and bounds. ... That's one of the records I really like. I look at it like this: If anyone's gonna break that record, it's gonna be us.”
With the regular season completed some non-playoff teams have already started planning for next year and beyond. In Seattle, Jon Ryan landed a lucrative six-year contract extension. Needless to say, he is happy:
“It really is a big moment in my life. It’s something I’ve been working toward for a very long time. Now that I’ve realized that, it’s something that’s going to take a while to set in.... It came right out of the blue. I wasn’t sure how long they wanted to get me for. To see that they are serious makes you feel good. I was in a situation earlier in my NFL career where I didn’t feel that appreciated and we know how that ended, so to be in a situation where they do want me for a long time is quite a compliment.”
With Sunday's game landing on January 3, 2010,  the Giants' Jeff Feagles joined George Blanda as the only players in NFL history to play in four different decades. At this juncture he hasn't decided whether that will be his one and only game for this decade and call it a career:
"I'll sit back and take it all in, and see what happens."
Another elder member of the league looked back at what was a subpar year for him. Detroit kicker Jason Hanson was very forthright and self-critical on the subject. Punter Nick Harris also weighed in, since he serves as the holder on placekicks:
"Obviously, it's not a lack of foot speed -- he has not lost his leg strength. His misses started straight, but just sailed. It drove him crazy, but the ball would just go off line."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fred Mitchell 4 - To Chicago

In the next segment of our interview with the namesake of the Fred Mitchell Award, we travel back to the late 60's and early 70's. Mr. Mitchell had just graduated from Wittenberg University and was exploring the limited opportunities for a continued kicking career. Initially he kicked part time for the Columbus Bucks, a semi-pro football team.
"I was a high school coach at Grove City High School outside of Columbus and I taught English for five years. It was difficult to juggle all those duties from a time standpoint, but I was able to squeeze that in. This was an era before any kind of arena football league or any other options. If you weren’t kicking in the NFL the only options you had were either to try and play in Canada or semi-pro football, which was pretty big back then. Also during the 60’s the Vietnam War was going on. I sent out some letters to some NFL teams and the most encouraging response that I got back was from the Denver Broncos, who said that they were having a kicking camp and invited me to come out to that to try things out. But they had drafted a kicker from Stanford in the fourth or fifth round and had signed one of the Gogolak’s, Charlie Gogolak I believe, as a free agent possibility.

With the war going on you had a chance to get a deferment if you were a student or if you went into teaching. I couldn’t just go around the country trying out like I could today. I think about that when I look at Robbie Gould on the Bears now, who after graduating from Penn State was not drafted, tried out with a couple teams, and was working construction when the Bears contacted him for tryout. You can do that now. Back then if I had tried to do that I would have no doubt been drafted through the military. I had just got married and basically had to go on with my life at that point and start a life long career.

Not to say that I would have made it, but looking back I would have liked to have had the opportunity to give it a shot at the NFL level. So I kicked a little bit with the Columbus Bucks. Then I got hired at the Chicago Tribune in 1974 and played a little bit with a semi-pro team called the Chicago Heights Broncos. I even wrote a first person story about one of the games I played in – had some fun doing that. Then because of time, and that sort of thing, I had to settle for being the sports information director for the league at that time."
Not long after Mr. Mitchell had arrived in Chicago, he pitched an idea that had been formulating in his mind.
"I had been thinking and wrote a letter to Wilson Sporting Goods, which is based here in Chicago. In the letter I said placekickers are in many ways similar to relief pitchers in baseball who get to warm up in a bullpen before they’re called upon to come in. Kickers stand along the sideline, often in cold rainy weather, and get kind of stiff. Then they’re called upon maybe in the fourth quarter to go in and deliver the winning kick without really properly warming up. So I wrote maybe they could have a kicking net on the sideline. My idea was to have a football tethered by a rope or whatever that’s anchored in the ground so it wouldn’t bounce away too far. They could kick it into the net and the kicker could warm up along the sideline. I got a letter back from Wilson Sporting Goods saying ‘well, you know this is a great idea, but we don’t know if there will be that much interest to market it’. I wasn’t smart enough to get a patent on the idea. Then shortly afterward, I would say within a year, they started popping up at Wilson Sporting Goods and other companies. I could literally kick myself I guess for not getting an attorney and patenting the idea."