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April 12, 2010

For the Hokies to get in their kicks in 2010, the kickers need to be up to the task

By: Jimmy Robertson

Field goals and field position.

As most Tech fans know, their beloved Hokies have won many games over the years because of their excellence in these two elements of the sport.

But in a teleconference before the start of spring practice, Tech head coach Frank Beamer recited a list of areas that needed in-depth attention – and kickers and punters, the two positions responsible for field goals and field position, ranked near the top of that list.

“We’ve got some good guys, but your field-goal guy and your punter are two critical guys on your football team,” Beamer said.

Beamer’s concerns stem from losing two outstanding first-team All-ACC specialists in punter Brent Bowden and kicker Matt Waldron. Those two ranked among the best in the nation at their crafts, with Bowden averaging nearly 44 yards per punt, and Waldron making 20 of his 23 field-goal attempts and all 48 of his extra-point attempts.

Both graduated, which leaves Beamer in a bit of a conundrum, not because there aren’t candidates to replace them, but because only a couple of them have any experience.

At least Beamer has a successful history of unearthing kickers. In 2007, after three-year starter Brandon Pace departed, he plugged in Judson Dunlevy, who turned out to be sensational. The following season, Dustin Keys stepped in after Dunlevy graduated and churned out an honorable mention all-conference season before he himself graduated. Then this past season, Waldron booted his way onto the all-league team.

The difference, though, is that Dunlevy, Keys and Waldron had been in Tech’s system for at least three years. Among the current place-kickers, only walk-on Chris Hazley has been in Tech’s system for longer than two years.

Hazley, a rising redshirt senior from West Chester, Pa., came to Tech as a walk-on in the spring of 2007 and only kicked his senior season at Henderson High School – he was more into soccer. He and Justin Myer, a rising junior from Manheim, Pa., figure to be the frontrunners heading into the Hokies’ opener against Boise State.

“Hazley has been around a while and it might be the same as it’s been the past couple of years,” Beamer said. “The senior comes in there and he’s the one who’s been around the most and he’s the one who becomes the most consistent.

“I really think Myer has all the ability to be a great field-goal guy. Consistency is the key, but he gets the ball up high, which I like, and he gets it off quickly, which I like, and he has a strong leg, which I like. We’ll check his consistency.”

Consistency was a common theme this spring, as Hazley, Myer and others battled. That group also included Cody Journell, one of the top kicking recruits nationally in the 2009 recruiting class; Zack Pickard, a walk-on from Graham, N.C., who joined the program last fall; and Tyler Weiss, a Spotsylvania, Va., native who transferred from Murray State. Weiss may be the sleeper of the group because he played as a true freshman at MSU, hitting 7 of 10 field-goal attempts and all 32 of his extra points. He sat out last season and has three seasons of eligibility left.

The situation at punter is slightly less muddled. Brian Saunders, a rising fifth-year senior from Roseland, Va., has been Bowden’s backup for three years. He has dressed for every game each of the past three seasons.

“He would be our leading guy,” Beamer said.

A couple of others will be challenging him heading into the fall, including Scott Demler and Grant Bowden, Brent’s younger brother. Demler, a native of Princeton, N.J., arrived in the fall of 2008, and he really drills it, but he takes a little long to get rid of the ball.

“He can really hit it,” Beamer said. “Consistency will be an issue and he takes some long steps in there. We need to work on that.”

The Hokies need for their kickers to be consistent, particularly their field-goal kickers. After all, they tend to play in a lot of close games – in fact, they’ve played in 11 games that have been decided by five points or less in the past three seasons.

Field goals and field position are thus important. So much of Tech’s future success depends on whether the kickers get in their kicks.