Special Teams of the Mountain West Conference: the 2011 Placekickers

Orginally, the kicking duties on a football team were almost always performed by another player on the roster who doubled in another position. It was not until the 1960's that coaches began to recognize the need to specialize. Of all the postions on the football field, perhaps none is more important than that of kicker. Yes, quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs are all important; they make the big plays and pile up the points. But a busted pass play, sack, or yards lost on a rushing play is often not near as critical as the results of a bad kick. While the offense line will get a do-over on the next down, there is only one time a kicker can shine: when his butt is on the line.

You have to ask yourself how many games have been decided by a single point that could be attributed to an extra point? How many close, gut-wrentching contests have been won or lost by the results of a last minute field goal? Any Boise State or Nevada Wolf Pack fan can tell you about the "wide right-wide left" game played out in Reno last season. Those two kicks cost the Broncos a shot at making history, perhaps even the National title game, but certainly an appearance in the Rose Bowl and the millions of dollars that went with it. But those kicks also brought down one of the most prolific, record-setting kickers in the nation. 

The Air Force Falcons had their troubles last year in the kicking department as well. Senior Erick Soderberg,6' 1" 190 lbs, had a good year in 2009 when he was 22 of 30 on FGAs and accounted for a whopping 104 Falcon points. He ended up on the 2010 Lou Groza Award watch list. But the 2010 season didn't pan out. He had a rough go with field goals even though he completed 38 of 40 PATs. He only made 5 of 10 FGA's and his longest was only 30 yards.  He's in a battle for the starting job this season with junior Parker Herrington, 6' 1" 198 lbs. 

For now it looks like Soderberg is penciled in as the starter this fall, but if he does get the nod you can bet that coach Troy Calhoun will be watching closely every time #99 takes to the field.

The Boise State Broncos kicking situation is fluid right now while the special teams coach is waiting to make a decision on Brotzman's replacement. The Broncos had no less than four placekickers during spring ball. One was Jimmy Pavel, 5' 9" 212 lbs, out of Mololla, Oregon. As backup last year, he made all nine of his extra point attempts, but missed his only shot at a field goal from within the 40 yard line. Another possible starter who is getting a lot of attention is sophmore Dan Goodale, 6' 1" 190 lbs, a walk-on from Boise's Timerline High. He has the leg to get it done. During the spring game he booted a 52-yard field goal thru the uprights. But both of these guys will have to compete with incoming scholarship recruit Jake Van Ginkel, 6' 0" 175 lbs, for the starting job. This freshman set the California High School state record for career field goals (39), was named MaxPreps All-America in 2010 and first-team all-state, was picked to the 2009 ESPN Junior All-America Team, and the awards go on and on. This guy looks to be the kicking future of Boise State Bronco football.

The Colorado State Rams have senior Ben DeLine back for his third year as starter. Last year DeLine was 16 of 22 on FGA's, but he was only 18 of 21 on PATs. That's an 85.7 percent rating which is not bad. In his first two seasons he was a 100 percent and never missed a one. But his starting job is safe. No Ram fan or team member can forget last year's game with Idaho. After DeLine after missed a game-tying PAT in the fourth quarter he got a do-over. With three seconds put back on an expired clock, DeLine kicked a game-winning 35-yard field goal. DeLine's kick caused CSU to win by a score of 36-34, and it snapped a 12-game losing streak that went back nearly a year. That is storybook stuff.

The New Mexico Lobos have one of the best placekickers in the MWC. Senior James Aho, 5' 9" 195 lbs, is back for his final season as the starter. He is favored to be an all-conference candidate this year and is undoubtedly one of the best players in coach Mike Locksley's arsenal. Last season the New Mexico native punched all 22 PATs through the uprights and went 8 of 9 on field goals. The longest was a 51-yard monster that allowed for their only win---a win over Wyoming, 34-31.

The kicker at San Diego State wrapped up his starting position beginning with last season's stats.  A junior college transfer, senior Abel Perez, 6' 1" 225 lbs, played in all 13 games in 2010, and accounted for 105 of the Aztecs points. He was 54 of 56 on PATs, and 17 of 22 on FGA's. One of those field goals was a 53-yarder over UNLV.  Perez has been named to the Lou Groza Watch List for the 2011 season and was an All-Mountain West Second Team in 2010.  He also had a league best 28 touchbacks on kickoffs last season.   

The Texas Christian Horned Frogs are looking pretty solid with senior Ross Evans, 5' 9" 185 lbs, returning for his fourth season as starter. That takes a big load off coach Patterson who is busy with a new quarterback and rebuilding an O-line that has only guard Kyle Dooley as an anchor. Evans is an experienced, proven commodity and accounted for 101 Frog points last season. He was 68 of 73 on PATs, and 11 of 13 on FGAs. He scored points in all 13 games that included Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. What's important according to his his stats is that he has improved every year since starting for the Frogs as a freshman. If that is any indication of what to expect, this year could be a banner year for the Texas specialist.

The University of Las Vegas Rebels have a couple of options at kicker. The first is sophomore Nolan Kohurst,6' 0" 165 lbs, who started as a freshman last year and played in all 13 games. He was 29 of 30 on PATs, and 8 of 11 on FGS's. To be fair about his stats, four of those FGA's were from beyond the 40 yard line and he put one of them up for a 47-yarder to break a school record by a freshman. He ended the season leading the team with a total of 53 points. Rivals.com named him to their Freshman All-MWC Team.

But all that still might not be enough to be named the starter. There's a new kid on the block and he's also looking to start: junior college transfer Chase Lansford, 6' 2" 195 lbs, son of former LA Rams kicker Mike Lansford. Last season at Santa Anna CC, he started his 2010 season with a 52-yard field goal. He can also do the punting duties, averaging 43.7 yards each punt. Lansford was also a JC Gridwire's Preseason All-America placekicker in 2010.

The Wyoming Cowboys lost a good placekicker in junior Ian Watts to academic issues. It left the Pokes with another huge hole to fill, so head head coach Dave Christensen and his staff went shopping. They found a bargain in placekicker Daniel Sullivan, 5" 10" 185 lbs, from Snohomish, Washington. Sullivan was named by the Associated Press as the First Team All-State place-kicker in Class 4A, with Class 4A being the largest classification in Washington state. Sullivan was also rated the #7 kicker in the nation by Kohls Kicking Rating System. There is no doubt this guy will be making a difference against all the Cowboy's opponents on game day.

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