the study of all things kicker related

Friday, February 26, 2010

Billy Cundiff Focuses In

Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff has been kicking nearly all his life, and more recently has also been teaching others through his Cundiff Kicking Camp. In a recent interview, we discussed his kicking career along with various matters of the foot and mind.

Going all the way back to the very beginning, what is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball (any kind of ball, not necessarily a football)?
I started out playing youth soccer. I was probably playing soccer by the time I was eight, or around that age. I played soccer all the way through high school. I moved to Iowa when I was about eleven years old, so then I ended up playing club ball. We had to drive to Omaha, which is 45 minutes from where I moved, a small town named Harlan. I played club ball all the way until I got into high school. Our high school did not have a soccer team - everybody in my small town wanted to play football. I had been playing football since junior high, where I was the quarterback and also happened to be the kicker because of my soccer background. It was a natural progression - I just kind of fell into kicking. But I had been kicking objects, whether it was footballs or toys in frustration from a young age.

Regarding your high school days at Harlan, what is your most vivid kicking memory?
Probably to be honest, it was a string of them during my sophomore year. I was playing varsity. I had four field goals during the regular season and I had four or five field goals in the playoffs, so I doubled my numbers. In the second round I had a game winner to beat our big rival in overtime. Then in the third round, the semi-finals, my field goal ended up being the difference - we won 10 to 7. In the finals, I broke the record for the longest field goal in a finals game, which was 38 yards. I added another field goal, I don’t remember what length. It was just that little run there, but that’s when I started to really get a taste of what could be. I was having a lot of fun. It was fun to play on varsity and then make all-state as a sophomore. That’s when I really started to enjoy it. Before that it was kind of something I did on the side. But at the time I realized it was fun winning football games.

What is your most vivid kicking memory from your college years at Drake University?
Probably the game where I hit a 62 yarder. We were playing at home. In the Midwest early in the year it’s pretty windy. I was warming up pre-game and was hitting 65 yarders pretty easily, because we had probably at least a twenty mile an hour wind going straight down the middle of the field. It was going only in one direction, going towards our scoreboard, from the south headed up north – a nice warm wind. On the opening drive of the game we stalled right around midfield and the coach looked at me and asked ‘do you want it?’ I replied, ‘of course I do!’ So we went out there and I think the other team was shocked, they thought we were going to run a fake or something. We kicked it. I hit the ball - probably one of the best kicks I’ve ever hit. I cleared it with five to seven yards to spare. It set the school record for longest kick. That year I believe it was the second longest [NCAA] kick of the year. It was a lot of fun. The most pressure I felt on a kick was the next kick, which was about a 32 yarder, because you can’t make a 62 yarder and then miss a 32 yarder.

Heading into the NFL, does the K-ball used in games really make as much difference as we’re led to believe?
It does and it doesn’t. It depends where you’re playing. Just to give a little background, the equipment guys are given roughly 45 minutes before the game to work in the footballs, and the referees watch them, so they can’t really do all that much. They can rub them down with a wet to towel to try and get some of the wax off. They can try to beat in the edges a little bit so it’s not as pointy. The way guys have figured out to get around the rules, if you’re playing at a place where you have an older kicker, generally they’re going to have the balls worked in a little bit more, so generally it’s not as much of a factor. Some teams, if they don’t have a kicker that’s really vigilant about it, and make sure that he gets his equipment guys to break in footballs, you can get bad footballs. I’ve had bad footballs that I thought I just killed and then had a kickoff that only goes to the five yard line. Just for a good example, we were playing Indianapolis in a playoff game, and granted it’s indoors, but we had nice footballs and my first kickoff went seven yards deep. That’s a big range between the five yard line and seven yards deep. The K-ball is there, but there are ways to get around it and guys have figured it out.

During your break from having an NFL regular season job, I assume you were working with your kicking camp during those years?
Yea, kicking camp stuff and private lessons are something I do on the side. It helped me to stay connected with the game, especially when I wasn’t playing in the NFL. I was able to help out of bunch of kids. I also have I guess you could say a “real” job, working for a venture capital firm in Phoenix. The kicking camp was a way for me to say “well, if I’m done playing football, how can I help out some kickers take their game to the next level, and how can I myself stay connected to the game.’

Is there anything you acquired or learned through the coaching role that helped you when you were kicking with the Browns and then the Ravens this year?
Yea, there’s a lot of things. The big thing is you’ve got to practice what you preach! There’s a lot of times where I felt like I maybe didn’t demand of my students as much as I should have – whether it’s keeping your head down, or where you focus your eyes, or how to approach certain kicks. I was always ‘you need to do this and you need to that’, and then I would get into a game and think ‘okay, if I was coaching what would I say? Well, this is what I’d do, why don’t I just do that.’ Simple things such as on short field goals don’t try to aim it, you’ve just got to pick your spot and kick through the ball. Same thing with long field goals, you can’t try to guide the ball and try to just put it through, you have to let it go and trust that you’ll have enough distance and that it will stay true to your line if you stay disciplined with your technique. Little things like that, like on kickoffs not trying to be really aggressive, but straddling the line between being aggressive and too aggressive. As the game would go on I would always find things where I’d think, ‘I know what to do here, I’ve taught kids this hundreds of times. I need to just go out and do it’.

You just discussed some of the techniques during a kick. What goes through your mind during the process of a kick?
I try to create a process that is the same each and every time for field goals and one that is the same for kickoffs. I do all my preparation before I actually go on the field, so whether it’s getting my leg warmed up, or going through the different situations doing some visualization. That way when I get onto the field - whether it’s a 25 yard field goal or a 50 yard field goal – I know exactly what I want to do and I’m just going to go out there and make the kick. I’ve got my routine which involves making sure my breathing pattern is the same, using my cue words, and making sure that I don’t over think. Instead I try to not think at all and trust in that I’ve done thousands and thousands of reps. I essentially just try to let go.

How do you achieve clearing you mind?
Sports psychologists will always tell you that ‘you can’t block out, you can only focus in’. When you focus in on something so much, then you naturally block out all the other distractions. In football, coaches because they feel like they don’t know how to talk to kickers, will always say, ‘oh, don’t worry about all this stuff, just kick the ball’. Instead they should say, ‘just focus on the kicking and the rest will take care of itself’. They try to tell you to block it out. Well, you can’t block it out. It’s impossible – you’re mind just doesn’t work like that. If they tell you what to focus on, try to instill a little bit of confidence, they wouldn’t have to worry about all the extra stuff.

Name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize.
I think that kickers are really good athletes. If you start looking in the NFL and start looking at the backgrounds of some of these guys, the kickers and punters are not these tiny, non-athletic players anymore. It’s not like the days of the past. Guys were all-state in other sports, as well as football, when they were in high school. This idea that guys are a kicker because they can’t do anything else is nonsense. Most of the players happen to fall into kicking because they’re competitive athletes and they just happen to be pretty good at kicking. It wasn’t that they couldn’t do anything else and kicking was the only option.


This interview sponsored by the National Combine Series.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kicking for Money

Long gone are the "old school" days of professional football, when players also had to work a "real" job just to put "food" on the table. The highly successful big business NFL can now afford to pay very lucrative salaries. Even to kickers. We were reminded of this yesterday when word broke that the Raiders had resigned on-the-verge-of-free-agency Sebastian Janikowski, making him the highest paid kicker in the NFL ($16 million four-year contract with $9 million guaranteed). He can now buy some food for his table, and perhaps even splurge on a new table.


When the conversation shifts to money, the agents usually do the talking. Janikowski's agent Paul Healy commented:
"He is the best kicker in the NFL, and the Raiders have recognized that fact by rewarding him with this monstrous contract."

The continually escalating salaries and the establishment of a new league high usually bodes well for other successful players heading towards free agency. That could be soon be Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed. With eyes aglow, his agent, Don Henderson, commented following the Janikowski news:
"I don't know what to tell you. The ironic part is, if you take a look at field-goal kickers the last three years, Jeff Reed leads the league in field-goal percentage.... Omar [Kahn, Steelers negotiator,] on Monday asked my opinion, and I said all I can tell you is what the stats tell me: that Jeff is the field-goal percentage leader in the NFL.... We tried to get something done before season and it just didn't work out. We want to be in Pittsburgh and they know we want to be there."
Also recently hitting the news was a listing of the top fifty salaries for soccer/football/futbol players around the world. Topping the list is Christiano Ronaldo at a base salary of £11.3 million. Atop a 2009 total income list was David Beckham at £32.4 million. Janikowski will need a few endorsement deals and side ventures to reach those levels.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interviews: Robbie Gould & Mason Crosby

As part of our ongoing kickology research, we asked kickers around the NFL a series of questions regarding the details of kicking. Whether it was just coincidence, or whether it was fate, the separate answers from the Bears’ Robbie Gould and the Packers’ Mason Crosby came forth within hours of each other. Perhaps it is just another chapter in the Chicago and Green Bay rivalry, the longest in the NFL.

The kicking game has undergone many changes since the two teams first met in 1921. Chicago’s Dutch Sternaman led the league with five field goals made in 1921. Seven years later in 1928, Green Bay’s Harry O’Boyle led the league with three field goals made. In 2006, Robbie Gould led the NFL with 32 field goals made. In 2007, Mason Crosby’s 31 field goals were good for second place that year. We didn’t think to ask Gould and Crosby about Sternaman and O’Boyle. Nonetheless, following are their answers to the questions we did ask.

Regarding the fundamentals of a kick: from set-up through the snap, the hold, and the actual kick, could you describe the whole sequence of a typical kick?
Gould: "I find a spot, usually on the corner of the hash (mark), and that gives the holder a point where he can put the ball. From there I take two steps back and two steps to the left, find my target behind the upright, wait for the snap and the hold, and then I attempt the kick."
Crosby: "My steps are three back. I am at about two and a half yards from the ball, and I take two steps to the left. As I’m set the holder will have the spot and call “ready-set” and raise his right hand. I begin my approach as the holder’s left hand goes to catch the ball. It all takes between 1.2 to 1.4 seconds, making it a very fast process."

Regarding different weather conditions, are there any adjustments you make when kicking in the rain? Wind?
Gould: "When kicking in the rain, you have to be aware of your plant foot. With the wind you have to judge it and play the ball according to how far the wind may pull the ball left or right."
Crosby: "The adjustments are all slight. I may change plant shoe cleats to longer ones for rain. It all depends on the field. In windy conditions the main thing is to not over play the wind or over think it. Inside 40 yards, most winds will not affect the ball an extreme amount."

Do you make any technique adjustments when attempting a long field goal, as compared to a medium or short range kick?
Gould: "No you keep everything the same. The only thing I would say about long field goals is, if you have a 60-plus yarder you are going to have to hit it a little bit lower."
Crosby: "I try to kick every ball exactly the same way, no matter the distance. That keeps me from over swinging in long field goal situations."

Are there any particular stadiums in the NFL that you’ve come across so far that are more challenging to kick in than others?
Gould: "Pittsburgh, Chicago, Green Bay, or any cold weather place that has a lot of wind is pretty tough."
Crosby: "It’s game to game on this one. Each stadium holds its own challenges. Any outdoor stadium may cause problems with wind and weather. NFL fans are die hard, so playing away games are always loud. Lambeau is a great place to play and can pose many weather related issues and our fans know how to bring it to keep opposing teams on edge."

Is there one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize?
Gould: "In game situations, you have to be an athlete and want the ball. If you don’t like pressure and don’t want the ball at the end, you’re not going to have much success on game winning kicks."
Crosby: "Kickers have to run and lift like everyone else. We cannot just walk out every year and kick without training."

These interviews sponsored by and previously posted on Footballguys.com
 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl K Quotes

With 20 minutes still remaining in the halftime of Super Bowl XLIV, Saints head coach Sean Payton informed his team that they would open the second half with an onside kick. Rookie punter Thomas Morstead - who would be handling the kickoff, as he had all year - described the moment:
"He just walked by in passing and said, 'Hey we're running it'....I wish he'd told me at the end [of halftime]."
Although Morstead's initial reaction to the decision included a bit of panic...
“It’s the biggest stage in the world.... I wasn't worried, I was terrified. That’s an aggressive move.”
... he also thought it was the right call:
“When coach called that play, and it just made sense to me. My special-teams coach in college, who just passed away last year, he always said, 'Be more aggressive than the opponent.' We knew it was open. I was terrified and excited at the same time because I knew we could do it if I executed."
Morstead's involvement in the play did not end after the ball left his foot:
"When I hit it, it bounced off somebody, Chris Reis recovered it, then it kind of squirted between his legs and then he recovered again right before the dog pile happened. I went over there trying to pull guys off, and then I got pulled off by somebody ... and I hear a referee saying, 'blue ball, blue ball,' like the Colts recovered. That's when I tried pulling guys off again."
After the game, Morstead again recollected on his former college coach, Frank Gansz Sr.:
“I was only with him for a year. It was crazy how he would always tell me 'We got one year. We got one year to get you ready’.... As soon as I got drafted I went to the hospital [to visit Gansz]. He was in a coma. I saw him on a respirator. He used to always tell me 'God had us together for a reason’’, but he never told me what the reason was. Sometimes I feel like ... He's done a lot for a lot of people."
Saints kicker Garrett Hartley also commented on the onside kickoff:
"We had that planned. We had been working on that for weeks, and we executed it at the proper time. Thomas made an amazing kick, and it shifted the whole momentum of the game.''
Hartley also played a key role in New Orleans' 31-17 victory, making field goals of 46, 44, and 47 yards. He was the first kicker to ever make three kicks of 40+ yards in a Super Bowl.
"What record? Apparently this is news to me. That's my job every time I'm out on the field, whether it's 40 yards or 25 yarders, it's my job to put points up there and help my team win."
Hartley commented that he was still in the proverbial zone with his kicking:
"I guess the confidence from a couple of weeks ago was still there.... The ball was coming off my foot pretty well all week."
His own success aside, Hartley was certainly aware that his team had just won the big game:
"Oh my gosh! It's such a surreal feeling. I could never have imagined it like this. It was a storybook ending, and that's how our season has been this year. It was just meant to be.... I can't even explain this feeling right now. Here I am at 23, and we're world champions. It's the most amazing feeling. It's awesome."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are Punters the True Ironmen?

In the first part of our interview with Travis Dorsch, we discussed items related to his ongoing academic career, including his graduate research on performance vs. perception in kicking. Today we'll primarily discuss topics related to his athletic career, which included more than just kicking.

What is your earliest recollection of kicking a ball (any ball, not necessarily a football)?
I played soccer as a kid, just like every kid in America now, but not super competitively. I actually moved way from soccer then when I was a youth and began playing football. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I really started to think ‘Hey, this is something I might be able to do’. The kicker graduated from our high school, and I was a wide receiver and a quarterback, and just said I’d give [kicking] a shot. The rest is kind of history. It was sort of by chance, sort of by opportunity. I got a great opportunity to get a college scholarship and to play a couple years in the big leagues.

After having missed a kick, is there anything someone said to you that you’ll never forget?
Yea, I think back to my freshman year at Purdue. I missed three field goals in the first half of a game against Iowa. Coach Joe Tiller, who was the coach here at Purdue at the time, came up to me at halftime and said, ‘we’re going to keep sending you out there, so you can either keep missing them or you can start making them’. Even though it was sort of framed kind of sarcastically, to me it showed the ultimate confidence in me. That my coach, after I had a horrible first half, he comes up to me at halftime and says ‘were gonna keep sending you out there… we need you to help us win this game’. So to me that was a turning point in my freshman season, and actually those three kicks were three of I think only four that I missed all season. So really, he had the confidence and faith in me to go out there and perform, and it showed there at halftime.

You did both placekicking and punting… which one’s harder?
Punting for sure. You can be a real, real effective kicker if you have great technique. Leg strength doesn’t help and make up for some flaws. I’ve seen a lot of guys with not-superior legs that have been excellent kickers. As a punter, I think you have to be very athletic. You’re really trying to hit a moving target. When you drop that ball in the middle of the air when you’re in the second half of your last stride, not only are you moving as you go to plant, but the ball is moving – which is being affected by not only gravity, but maybe the wind, the height you drop it, and what kind of influences you put on the ball when you drop it. Then you’ve got to meet at this three dimensional point - your foot to the ball. Whereas in field goal kicking that ball theoretically, if the holder is doing his job, should be sitting in the same spot, looking the same way every time. I do think punting is more difficult. I think it takes a little more athleticism. Not to say that kickers aren’t good athletes, because they are, but if they swing the same every time they should hit good balls. As a punter, there’s a lot more that goes into the equation.

What’s harder, punting or triathalon?
[laughs] it depends how you want to define “hard”, my friend! I think you need to be more focused, in the moment, as a punter. You get out there and your job is going to take you anywhere from 2.0 to 2.2 seconds to perform. From that snap, until you catch it, until you punt it you’ve got to be on – everything has to be perfect. When I go on an Ironman there’s a little more freedom to float, if you will, eventually. But you have to be ready to be in pain for ten or eleven hours. It’s a different kind of hard, but there both difficult.

Do you still have your Travis Dorsch Kicking & Punting Academy?
I do, I do. I’m so busy with my triathlon training and my grad school work that I usually just do one day a summer now. That’s something I’d like to continue in the future wherever I end up. Of course I have the DVDs that I distribute quite regularly. A lot of kids are calling from Virginia or California and can’t make it here and I can’t make it there, so we do a lot of DVD sales with that.

Name one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize.
Most kickers are great athletes. The people you see in the NFL - the Larry Fitzgeralds, the Adrian Petersons – you’re talking about the top 1% of the top 1%. So you’re talking about four or five standard deviations from normal. These guys are by all accounts “freaks”. You see a kicker and sometimes they miss a tackle and they fall down, or they fumble a snap or something, and we’re quick to say ‘oh, that’s so un-athletic’, but I think for the most part on average kickers and punters are great athletes, or were great athletes. Usually we’re multi-sport guys in high school, some of them even in college. You look at a guy like Hunter Smith, former long time punter for the Colts, he was just under a seven foot high jumper in high school and at Notre Dame. You go back to Tom Tupa at Ohio State, he was a quarterback and then ended being a backup quarterback in the NFL. That’s not to say that you don’t every once in while have your kooky flake that’s not a great athlete, but for the most part kickers and punters are great athletes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Newest Collegiate Kickers

Yesterday was a busy day for high school seniors and colleges, as the football recruiting process culminated in the annual National Signing Day. Following is a summary of the incoming freshman class of kickers. If you notice any omissions, post a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Definitive Preview Guide to Super Bowl XLIV

With Super Bowl XLIV less than a week away, the media blitz is in full force. For those that don't have the time to read, listen to, and watch the vast array of available information, Kickology provides you with the following essential pre-game information. Once you've read this, you will be fully prepared to enjoy the game.

New Orleans Saints

Long Snapper: Jason Kyle
  • Kyle was drafted into the NFL twice. In 1995 coming out of Arizona State, where he played inside linebacker, he was selected by Seattle in the fourth round. In 1999 he was selected by Cleveland in the expansion draft.  
  • "I definitely enjoy making tackles, and every now and then I find myself on top of a pile," Kyle noted prior to this season.
  • Kyle created the Pro Player Connect website for professional athletes to communicate securely with other athletes as well as network with registered businesses and for businesses to be able to connect with professional athletes. Endorsements, appearances, product offers, event invitations and job opportunities are just some of the possible connections for athletes and businesses to make through Pro Player Connect.
Holder: Mark Brunell
  • What do Brunell and David Carr have in common? They co-own the NFL record for most consecutive completions in a single game with 22. Brunell did so vs. Houston on September 24, 2006 (first 22 attempts).
  • "I'm not ready for the rocking chair. I have 10 more years left in me. Put that in the story. Mark Brunell will play 10 more years," said Brunell for an article published in September of 2000. 
  • The Brunell Family Foundation strives to improve the quality of life for children and families during a time of life-changing trauma; through emotional, physical and financial support, to better improve the overallwellness and strength of the family or individual.
Punter / kickoffs: Thomas Morstead
  •  In the Saints two playoff games so far this year, Morstead has punted 11 times with a gross average of 48.2 yards, a net average of 45.0 yards, and placing five of them inside the 20 yard line. Ray Guy is impressed.
  • "I got cut from the varsity soccer team my junior year in high school. I went out for football in order to get a leg up on soccer, to show the coaches what I could do," Morstead said, describing how he first played football late in his high school career.
  • "When he was at college, once his grandmother sent him some brownies. He forgot about them for three weeks. As boys will. They were in his bag. Then one time during a game at halftime he was starving and remembered the brownies. He said they were the best brownies he'd ever eaten. And every week somebody, his girlfriend, his mom, bring brings him brownies. That's how that started. After you win a few games, you don't like to change," his mother Isobel Morstead recently noted in an interview.
Placekicker: Garrett Hartley
  • During his junior and senior seasons at Oklahoma University, Hartley went 32 of 35 (91.4%) on field goals.He was a Lou Groza Award finalist his junior year. 
  • “Actually, I moved to Southlake to play soccer and that’s how, actually, I thought I was going to go to college. Never did I really start thinking about [playing football professionally] until my junior year of high school after I committed to Oklahoma for football. Things worked out there and I was given the opportunity here and it’s, honestly, been such a surreal experience,” Hartley said of his path to the Super Bowl.
  • Hartley has experience with only playing the latter part of a season. He missed the beginning of this year due to the suspension and then sitting on the bench while John Carney continued to kick. He did not join the Saints until part way through his rookie season last year. In 2004, his freshman year at Oklahoma, he was initially redshirted. He went on to kick a field goal in the national championship game that year, however the Sooners lost in a lopsided score to USC.
On the sidelines: kicker John Carney was released shortly after the team handed the kicking reigns back over to Garrett Hartley, however they quickly brought Carney back on board in another capacity - as a kicking consultant.
    Indianapolis Colts

    Long Snapper: Justin Snow
    • Snow has played in every game since being signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent ten years ago. His 160 consecutive games is second only to Peyton Manning's club record. 
    • “I remember we hadn’t punted in two playoff games, and all of a sudden, in the biggest game of my career, I shot it over Hunter’s head,” Snow recollected of a rare, ill-timed bad snap in the 2004 playoffs.
    • In his hometown of Abilene, Snow hosts the annual Justin Snow Football Camp and the “Snow Special Teamers”, which was created to reach children with special needs and give them a day of competition and recreation with Justin, NFL players, area coaches & volunteers.
    Punter / kickoffs / holder: Pat McAfee
    •  McAfee was the 2003 National Punt, Pass, and Kick champion. In college at West Virginia, he played soccer and handled placekicking, punting, and kickoffs for the football team.
    • "I'd play soccer all week and show up Friday for the [football] game and that was it. I didn't take it too seriously," McAfee said of his high school kicking days.
    •  McAfee is no stranger to the media spotlight off the field. Yesterday he spent part of time off interviewing south Florida tourists. Last spring he won a semi-professional wrestling"The Pat McAfee Show". match over War Pig. In 2008 he interviewed fellow Mountaineers for
    Placekicker: Matt Stover
    • Stover the 1979 National Punt, Pass, and Kick champion. In addition to kicking he also played wide receiver in high school and punter in college.
    • Over thirteen years ago (October 29, 1996) is the last time Stover missed an extra point. This year he upped the NFL record streak to 422 PATs.
    • "The longer you play, the more you understand this career is a privilege. It's not a right. It's something you're blessed with, and hopefully I'll kick well on Sunday,” Stover noted this week with the perspective of twenty years in the league.
    • The Matt Stover Foundation was formed in 2002 to centralize the Stover family’s contributions. The foundation will only make gifts to be used for charitable purposes. In short, the mission of the Matt Stover Foundation is to provide financial support to under-funded educational, religious and other charitable organizations.
    On the Sidelines: kicker Adam Vinatieri is not quite 100% recovered from knee surgery, but could kick if needed should something happen to Stover during the week.