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June 14, 2011

After two years of waiting, Journell ready for his chance as Tech's kicker

By: Jimmy Robertson

Cody Journell could think of many ways to build up leg strength over the course of this summer.

But hiking over a mountain in the dead of night on a major highway didn’t really come to mind.

Part of his summer vacation consisted of a late-night excursion from near the Pandapas Pond entrance on Route 460 over Brush Mountain and back to Blacksburg. This unscheduled jaunt came about after his ill-running car stubbornly shut down on his way home to Ripplemead in nearby Giles County late one night. As cars sprinted by, he hoofed it in pitch-dark conditions over Brush Mountain and nearly got to Blacksburg before a friendly police officer delivered him to his girlfriend’s apartment at roughly 3:30 in the morning.

“I could hear animals in the woods next to the road,” Journell said. “It was a little scary.”

He survived this adventure, but like most Tech fans, he’s hoping that things won’t be as scary this fall when he fulfills a childhood dream and suits up for the Hokies on Sept. 3 against Appalachian State. Journell, who won the starting placekicking job, will be seeing his first game action since the fall of 2008 when he suited up for the Giles High Spartans.

“I can’t wait for the season to start,” Journell said. “I’ve been working with my dad and kicking whenever I get the chance, but July 8, when we start second summer session, that’s when I’ll be over here. I’m itching for it.”

Journell will be kicking for a team that many rank among the preseason top 10 in the country. Phil Steele put the Hokies at No. 5, while Athlon rated them No. 7. Though most rate them that high because of a perceived soft schedule, the Hokies do return 14 starters from a year ago, and Logan Thomas looks like the real deal replacing Tyrod Taylor at quarterback.

Arguably the biggest question marks may be at kicker and punter, where the Hokies have been so good for so long. Chris Hazley and Brian Saunders both earned All-ACC nods last season, and head coach Frank Beamer spent a lot of his spring looking at replacements.

Enter Journell, who won the job to replace Hazley with a consistent spring. Hazley missed one field goal last year, and two years ago, Matt Waldron missed three. In the past 28 games, they combined to miss only four field goals.

The point is they were money – and they left pretty big kicking shoes for Journell to fill.

“There is a little more pressure,” Journell said. “Those two guys were fifth-year seniors and were first-team All-ACC guys. Being a redshirt sophomore and being in the starting spot is difficult mentally, but they’re good guys and they’ve worked with me a lot. That’s helped me more than anything.”

Journell enjoyed a solid spring, seeing extensive work in a competition against Justin Myer, Tyler Weiss, Conor Goulding and others. He nailed three field goals in one scrimmage, and he only missed once in the scrimmages, though it was a short one.

But in the spring game, in front of all those fans in game-like conditions, he only got one opportunity, connecting on a chip shot 26-yarder.

“Don’t worry,” Hazley told him. “I only got an extra point in the spring game last year.”

Journell isn’t leaving anything to chance this summer. He kicks three days a week, working on accuracy. On weekends when he meets with his kicking coach, Doug Blevins, he only kicks twice a week. Blevins is considered a guru, having worked with the likes of former Tech kicker Shayne Graham and Adam Vinatieri, both currently in the NFL, among others.

Journell knows there is an expectation to live up to the accomplishments of previous Tech kickers. Tech fans expect him to do well, and folks in Giles County especially want him to do well. A majority of them work at Tech and love the Hokies.

“You hear a lot more talk than you would if you were from somewhere else,” Journell admitted. “When I go home, everyone is a Tech fan. A lot of them work over here, too. They want to know everything that is going on.

“There’s a lot more pressure. But it’s also a privilege. If you know you can do it, it excites you more than anything.”

Journell’s challenge arrives in a little more than two months. At that time, a lifetime of waiting will be over.

“I feel like I’ve been waiting forever, not just these past two years, but since we had season tickets when I was little, I wanted to be on that field playing,” he said. “I’m ready for that opportunity to come about.”