Myth Of The Walk-On Kicker
By Brad Allis
There are a lot of common misconceptions about the kicking game. Although it is an integral part of football, it is unlike any other position in football. Kickers and punters are truly unique in nearly every way, from how they are recruited, to how they practice, to how they are handled.
With Arizona’s recent struggles in the kicking game I keep hearing the same thing, “why can’t they just go out and find a walk-on?” or “can’t they just find a soccer player and convert him?”Many people seem to think kickers grow on trees, and in some ways they do. Wildcat Sports Report has two former high school kickers on staff. Heck, last fall at halftime of a high school football game I won a $10 bet by kicking a 30-yard field goal that would have been good from 40, maybe 45 yards, without warming up.
But that is the difference. Just because you can kick, does not mean you are a kicker. There is a lot more that goes into kicking than just having a strong leg. I split the uprights by taking my time and kicking it out of a hold. There was no snap. No timing and certainly no one rushing. The only pressure was a couple of 10-year old kids who stopped playing catch to watch.
People kept wondering why the Cats did not go out and have campus wide tryout a year ago. Well, it’s not that easy. Dick Tomey used to have open tryouts the first week of classes when he coached at Arizona. For three straight years I knew guys who tried out. One year they said there were at least 30 kickers there, four of whom were All-Region in Arizona. In three years they took one kicker, and he never played.
A guy in my dorm was All-Region (at Amphi I believe). He was told he just didn’t have the leg strength to kick at this level. He said he could hit from 45-50 yards in practice, but admitted he just did not have the lift or “power” they were looking for. Although he routinely put balls in the endzone from the 40 in high school, he could not from the 35. Even worse, he did not have the timing or the steps to do it with the timing needed by a D-I team. He needed to line up 10 yards off the ball, not the normal five. He did not have the hang time.
The fact is there is a huge difference between being a really good high school kicker and being a college kicker.
Most college kickers work with kicking coaches on the offseason. Most who are planning on walking on do so. Most who answer an open call do not. Most who answer an open call do not spend the summer working on their kicking and certainly have not faced a live rush.
Pulling a kicker “off the street” is even tougher. First of all, adding a player mid-year is tough. You have to have a roster spot available. Even with walk-ons, a college roster has a cap. You can’t just stockpile 300 players.
Assuming you have a roster spot, and a kicker who is good enough to fill it, can you get him ready? This isn’t the movies where you can turn a garbage man or a mule into a game-ready kicker. Any one you get “off the street” will need to get their mechanics in order, get their timing back and get used to the speed of a D-I kick block team. That can rarely be done in a week. In the NFL free agent kickers spend the time they are off a roster working out. Many play semi-pro ball or kick against high school teams. The average college student is not doing that.
Now, that is not to say it can’t be done. Schools have found kickers with zero notice, but it is rare.
The best comparison I can make would be trying to take a player who can knock down a bunch of three-point jumpers alone in a gym and trying to make him a D-I shooting guard. The act of shooting (or in the kicker’s case, having a strong leg) is just one part of the make-up of a D-I player.
This is part one of a three part series on the kicking game. The next two stories will focus on what the Wildcats did right in handling the kicking game and what they did wrong in handling the kicking game.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please comment below.
-Coach Chris Husby
Professional Kicking Coach and Owner
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