When you say the word kicker, and you are talking about football, the mental image of Garo Yepremian’s famous performance as a passer in Super Bowl VII. It also reminds me that Yepremian was a very critical part of that perfect Miami Dolphins football team’s season. Hammering in PAT’s and kicking game winning field goals sort of made up for his quarterbacking skills.
Last season was the end of the four year line for Place Kicker Joey Slye. He ended up being greatly loved by Hokie Nation for his thunderous leg on kickoffs (I swear there were a couple that I thought he was aiming to hit Washington Street.) ended up sailing far out of the end zone for touchbacks. That good certainly doesn’t ablate some of the painful scorches from his problems with slicing the ball. The evil voodoo whammy that constituted the right hash mark outside of 30 yards always left me scratching when it came to stalling drives. I found myself yelling at Evans, or JJ from the sideline to run left and at least give Joey a chance to hang a 3 on the board.
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Those are all just memories, now. We have what amounts to an open position at place kicker. Brian Johnson has a couple of games under his belt, and basically ended the regular season for the Hokies as the starting kicker in 2017. Joey pulled something and ended up riding the walking wounded bus for the last few games. Johnson did a reasonable job. He appeared in 5 games, kicked 5 PATs and three field goals (missed one) all from 30 yards or less. For spot work that’s not too bad. He’s much lighter on the touchbacks than Joey Slye was. Johnson managed 6 TB’s in 12 kickoffs. The new college kickoff fair catch rule might change some of that, though. Johnson is seasoned enough to not be shocked, and hopefully he’s worked a bit on his swing through power. Even though he’s penciled in at a #1, there is Jordan Stout, just out of his redshirt freshman season. Stout is a dual purpose kicker, and is also the backup punter.
The one position on the foot side of the position descriptions is the undoubted #1 in the punter’s slot; Australian Oscar Bradburn. We were singing of hope and potential last season as Oscar stepped in to replace AJ Hughes. Like I said, potential was the key word. As an occasional Australian Rules Football Fan (Western Bulldogs! ) the concept of exchanging a footie for a ‘Duke’, and getting the kicker to settle down and behave himself behind a line on the field was going to be interesting. What became more interesting is the skill and comfort with which the change was made. What was even more thrilling is that Terrell Edmunds and Oscar Bradburn seemed to have worked out something very Australian Rules. It seems that Oscar could hang a short range pooch punt up enough that Terrell could run up underneath it and catch it for a ‘mark’. That of course means that the ball is immediately downed with no return. The fact that it happened inside the 10 yard line, and often inside the 5 is potentially crippling to the opposing offense.
I am just going to clip this line from Hokie Sports. It’s not just his averages that made him so special last season. It was the fact that he was routinely burying the opposing offense deep and therefore flipping the field.
Allowed 47 opponent punt return yards, a total that ranked seventh in the Power Five ... Placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 46.5 yards per punt playing in his first American rules football game vs. West Virginia (9/3) ... Averaged 40+ yards per punt for the third-straight game at East Carolina (9/16) ... Placed three punts inside the 20 and averaged 43.9 yards per punt at Boston College (10/7) ... Punted four balls inside the 20 and averaged 44.3 yards per punt vs. North Carolina (10/21) ... Had a season-long 57-yard punt and placed three punts inside the 20 at Virginia (11/24). –Hokie Sports
That’s nothing short of amazing, and it was his first season with a new form of football for him with new rules and a variation of the ball that often gives ruggers and other footballers problems. We have to see how well Oscar has adjusted over the off-season. As excellent as he was (just placed on the Ray Guy Award watch list) he’s got even more to learn and demonstrate. Maybe he can work out that ‘mark’ trick with another gunner. Punting isn’t all about distance. It’s about a combination of the right distance with minimal returns, and the combination of the Hokie Special Teams player, and Bradburn’s near pinpoint accuracy led to a total of 47 punt return yards being made by all opponents for the entire season. That was a special performance that more often than not makes a major difference in a football game.
Having Jordan Stout, who has a really good leg, BTW, for competition and backup is good, but Bradburn is the undisputed Hokie punter for the 2018 season and one would hope through 2020.
The last specialist on the chart is our one and only long snapper. Oscar Shadley is a true freshman with an all-star talent for performing that tricky ball maneuver, the long snap. He has accolades and honors from high school a mile high and a mile long. We’ll see how he does. The Long Snapper is the “silent star” of the football team. They work both punting and kicking details, and must be perfect every time that they snap the ball. Shadley has a real challenge ahead of him.
Which brings up the big question that we asked last season and will ask again.
That almost puts a wrap on it. We still have the last, most important unit of the Offense to go over, the Offensive Line. Things are looking pretty good there, and we finally have the size and depth to see some holes opening up in the future.
How many 2018 games will the kicking game be critical to?
This poll is closed
between 4 and 6
Less than 4
More than 6
As long as neither kicker repeats the Super Bowl VII fiasco I don’t care.