With increased parity in college football, one would think kickers would be among the most sought after recruits. Not so for many of the top high school specialists who are typically among the last to secure an opportunity at the next level. We recently consulted with Compete Kicking Network associate Lee McDonald of Special Teams Solutions, to discuss this recruiting reality.
Unlike a running back or linebacker, schools do not recruit a kicker every year according to McDonald. This is mainly due to the fact that kickers are not utilized elsewhere, such as a back-up on offense, defense or in coverage on special teams. FBS (Division IA) schools typically only reserve 2-3 scholarships for a kicker, punter and snapper while many FCS (Division IAA) only allot 1-2 scholarships that are often divided among several players.
“If you are an all-state running back, there are 10 scholarship offers on the table by May of your junior year,” says McDonald. “For the all-state kicker, he’s lucky if he gets more than one offer period which many times does not come until January or February of his senior year,” adds McDonald who says schools will wait until the last possible moment to offer a kicker depending on who is available at other positions on their recruiting board.
“For many programs, it comes down to whether they want to take another offensive lineman in their recruiting class or a kicker,” says McDonald. “And the odds are not usually good for kickers.”
McDonald cites several class of 2013 examples including All-State and U.S. Army All-American kicker Jim Cooper of Mainland High School who signed a full ride to Temple but only had one other scholarship offer. All-State and New Jersey Super 100 punter Chris Gulla of Toms River North High School took a recruited walk-on offer from Penn State, turning down several FCS (I-AA) offers.
Another reality is that some schools will not scholarship a kicker right out of high school according to McDonald. “There are coaches that believe kickers should walk-on and earn the starting nod before getting a scholarship,” says McDonald. “Some of this has to do with how much a coach values the kicking game and some of it comes from a fear of signing a kicker who does not pan out which forces a program to eat a scholarship.”
Further, some top prep kickers are not quite ready to perform in college coming out of high school but can be in a year or two once they have refined their technique. “So much of kicking is having proper mechanics which requires thousands of reps to master,” says McDonald. “I’ve seen some kids who have all the physical ability but need a year or two to develop their mechanics and adjust to the mental side of performing on a bigger stage.”
McDonald encourages college programs to think ahead when recruiting specialists, allowing prospects to red-shirt and develop their skills before competing to be a starter. Despite this advice, however, many schools want an immediate return if they invest in a kicker according to McDonald. “Colleges want a prospect to be able to perform immediately,” says McDonald. “They are often not willing to have a specialist develop in the program on scholarship like they do with other positions.”
Due to varying field conditions, bloated statistics and inconsistent snappers and holders, coaches often look to third party events, such as those run by the Complete Kicking Network, to get an idea of the top performers. “Most college coaches have never kicked and don’t necessarily feel comfortable recruiting kickers or do not understand the many nuances in recruiting a specialist,” says McDonald. “It’s a great feeling knowing our relationships with college programs have opened many doors for the kids we train over the last ten years.”
Even for someone with his background, says McDonald as a former Division I kicker at Rutgers who has trained and placed hundreds of kickers at the college level, it can be a bit of a crap shoot. “Like other positions, there is no perfect formula for identifying a kicker who will perform well when the lights are on,” says McDonald. “However, my staff and I do what we can through intense training, professional instruction and pressure situations to identify top kickers, punters and snappers for college programs.”
This Article is from the CKN Blog
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