Kicking is all about timing, and even the slightest deviation from practiced routine can throw a punt or placekick off target--often with disastrous results. "We scored 54 points last year, and yes, I kicked the ball," Thomas continued. "But I did not hold it. I did not snap it, and I did not block. All of that is as important as kicking."
The truth is that both Thomas and Tide punter Bearden depend far more on Ridings than most fans know. "When they found out they were a little worried, especially Neal," Ridings said. "They've all been worried, but they've been great. All of them stopped by the house when I had my leg up after the surgery. They're just looking to get me back."
Some injuries can be handled with a wrap or a brace, but a broken bone is still a broken bone. However, Ridings was determined to be there for the first day of practice. "It's not too bad," he said. "The doctors said it was a stress fracture and it happened over time. Then when I re-rolled it good that last time, I went and got it x-rayed. They put a screw in it a week before practice began."
For the first part of last week Ridings could be spotted hobbling around in a boot that protected his entire lower leg. But by the time the full squad hit the field Thursday he was sporting a smaller protective shoe, which allowed him to move around fairly well.
Gamely taking part in practice, Ridings nevertheless was in obvious pain as he made his way from drill to drill. "There's definitely some pain," he admitted. "I've still got a limp, but I think that will work out soon. At this point everything is at my discretion depending on how I feel. There's no rehab I can really do for it. The only rehab I can do is keep my legs in good shape. It's just a bone. It's got to heal over the screw."
Of course any athlete will tell you that pain is an inescapable part of football. But more importantly the doctors made certain he couldn't do any more damage by taking part in practice. "With the screw in there I'm not likely to re-injure it anymore," Ridings explained. "There was some pain involved from the stitches, but I got them out yesterday. That cut has got to heal all the way down to the bone. Right now that's most of the pain now on the side of the foot where the incision is."
"It really hasn't affected my snapping at all," Ridings continued. "I've been able to do what I have to do. The coaches probably won't put me in live practice until I feel real good about it and there's no chance of possible re-injury."
Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione told the media he and the training staff were optimistic that Ridings would be healed in time for the season-opener against UCLA. And Ridings definitely plans on snapping for placekicks. "Even if I'm slow healing, I should be able to handle place-kick snaps," he said. "The only problem right now is running down the field to cover punts.
"And we've got two emergency names, in case I can't go. Boone Stutz is the freshman who's been doing a good job, and Justin Smiley (redshirt freshman quick guard) can long snap, too."
Besides being proficient at deep snapping, Smiley and Ridings share a talent for weight lifting. Both athletes participated in last spring's Night of Champions and hold the record at their respective positions on the hang clean. "I had a real good summer in the weight room," Ridings said. "I certainly felt good about it. Coach Pollard did a great job keeping everybody focused. I improved on my lifts, but I wasn't able to do my power lifting at the end due to this injury."
Graduate Assistant Mike Bloomgren works directly with the Tide deep snappers, and according to him Ridings "is outstanding. So good that even I can't screw him up."
For his part, Ridings takes great pride in the role he plays in the Tide kicking game. "I feel our times (in placekicking) are good," Ridings said. "On the first day of practice they were right where we left off last year, if not better. Our overall performance time is down to about 1.21 seconds, which is where you're looking to be. We'll be even more efficient this year, and hopefully we'll get more opportunities and put even more points on the board."