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Free hugs, angry tweets and that kicker swag: A week in kicking

Author:
Elliott Fry

Elliott Fry

In just another example of the madness of a college football season, much of the most dramatic swings come down to players who weren’t recruited and may or may not be on scholarship.

As we learned this week, the coach might not even speak to such a pivotal piece of the puzzle.

The last week proved again how college kickers can surprise and infuriate — and also why they go through a different experience than the rest of college football players.

“No one really knows what a specialist goes through unless you’re another specialist at this level,” said Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis, whose 51-yard attempt in the fourth quarter tied a game with Florida. “It’s such a different sport within itself.”

Let’s give that a try in a look back at what life’s like for a college kicker.

***

Adam Butler’s teammates saw the moment happen in real time. His coach, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, didn’t see it until he started breaking down film. His aunt saw it on TV.

Millions of others saw the moment on TV or on social media.

Pretty much everyone Adam Butler knows had one question after Vanderbilt escaped with a 34-31 win over UMass on Saturday:

Why did the Vanderbilt defensive lineman hug that kicker?

“I didn’t realize that we had two seconds left,” Butler told Athlon Sports. “I thought the game was over. I thought he was the first person I’d say ‘Good game’ to. I said good game and get us next time.”

It was also a sweet moment. The UMass kicker, Blake Lucas, had just missed a 22-yard chip shot that would have tied the game with two seconds to go. UMass had led the game by 11 in the second half and had a real chance to put together a signature win for the program.

Understandably, Lucas didn’t take the gesture the same way.

“He said ‘get off me,’” Butler told Athlon Sports. “That’s normal, though. He might have taken it as me being a jerk.

“It was our first win. I was excited. I didn’t know what I was doing in the moment. I felt for the guy.”

***

For the second time in two seasons, South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry was on the other side of an opponents’ missed kick that led to vitriol on Twitter.

A year ago, South Carolina defeated Missouri 27-24 in double overtime. The Tigers still won the SEC East but the loss at the time seemed to be a major blow.

And who was to blame? According to some Missouri fans, Andrew Baggett, who missed a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 22-yarder in overtime. Some Missouri fans filled Baggett’s mentions with angry, profane tweets.

Proving that no one is immune from such reaction, Georgia’s Marshall Morgan took the brunt of frothing fans on social media. Never mind that Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive made field goals thanks to two makes in the first half against South Carolina.

A missed 28-yarder that would have tied the game in the fourth, though, was enough to make a vocal segment of fans forget the 20 consecutive field goals.

Georgia lost 38-35, and Morgan’s Twitter mentions were filled with taunts of “You had one job” and blame for the Bulldogs’ defeat.

By now, most of Morgan’s mentions are those of support, starting with the kicker on the other sideline.

Fry doesn’t know Morgan that well personally, but they’ve attended the same kicking camps and are part of an unofficial fraternity of specialists.

“Those situations, they can be tough,” Fry told Athlon Sports. “After that happens, a late field missed in a game, I’ve seen the tweets people say terrible things, talking about killing the guy.”

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As Morgan may learn, fans can be fickle with kickers. Fry, for example, missed early field goals in games against Missouri and Florida only for South Carolina to win the game later in part due to Fry’s field goals.

“You look at your phone after and you can see how quickly fans change on you. You open twitter and it’s fun . You see ‘Fry sucks’ and other worse things. You see it go from complete hatred to praise.”

***

Then again, maybe it’s just nice to be acknowledged.

West Virginia picked up a key win with a 40-37 win over Maryland. And what did Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen say to Josh Lambert before his game-winning 47-yard kick on the road?

Nothing. Not then, not ever, apparently.

“I haven’t talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we’re going to keep in that way,” Holgorsen told the media after the game.

“He’s a guy we have complete confidence in when it comes to make that shot. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I’d doing the hands-off approach.”

Lambert is a redshirt sophomore and has been West Virginia’s primary kicker for two years.

***

Kentucky fans might not have too much trouble remembering the name Austin MacGinnis after last week.

MacGinnis got both the highs and lows of the kicking experience in only his third game at Kentucky.

A redshirt freshman, MacGinnis kicked a 51-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining to tie the Gators at 20. Kentucky hasn't defeated Florida since 1986 and not at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1979.

In other words, quite the pressure situation for a kid whose last field goal came two years ago in high school in Wedowee, Ala.

“It was loud there for sure, but you try to block it out as a soothing noise rather than a bad noise,” MacGinnis said.

MacGinnis missed a 41-yard attempt in the third OT, but even a make may not have stopped the Gators — they scored a touchdown on their possession to win 36-30.

MacGinnis said he didn’t any grief on Twitter for his overtime miss — not that it would have mattered given the final score — but he did see Fry backing up Morgan on Twitter from earlier in the evening.

The SEC kicking fraternity has one more member, and another one with a sense of humor at that.

MacGinnis’ bio for Kentucky says he picked No. 99 because — and this is not a lie — “it is the definition of kicker swag.”

“I don’t know really why I put that down, but everyone thinks of a kicker as the last number you can have, like the last guy on the team,” MacGinnis said. “Kickers always look like the little kid that doesn’t belong, so the number kind of matches.”

***

When a kick goes wrong, a fellow kicker may be the only ones with a sense of empathy — even moreso than defensive linemen offering free hugs after a shanked kick.

When UMass’ Lucas missed his 22-yarder, former Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear watched from the sideline and winced.

He wanted his former team to win, for sure, but not like this. Not at the expense of another kicker.

The missed field goal was salt in the wound for Spear, who missed a 27-yard attempt in 2011 that would have tied a game against a top-10 Arkansas team. Spear didn’t attempt another field goal the rest of the season.

Spear returned for the next two seasons to go 35-of-43 on field goals the rest of his career.

“I definitely felt more for him,” Spear said. “I think it will make him a better kicker if he learns how to handle it. It’s a defining moment in some guys’ careers.”