From Boot Camp to Booting Kicks

The stereotype of a placekicker is one with a fragile ego, eccentric and quirky - the guy no one wants to talk to for fear of disrupting whatever type of meditative state it is that keeps him focused - not really a boot camp type of guy.

But if Alabama's new kickoff man Jamie Christensen happens to make another bad kick, as he did in just one of his ten attempts in the Tide's season-opening victory over Utah State, feel free to boo him, yell at him, whatever you like. I promise the young man will be able to handle it.

As it was last Saturday night, Christensen was given perhaps the warmest reception of the young season when he sailed his first kickoff as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide high and deep, out of the back of the end zone nearest the Alabama student section. Christensen received a loud ovation from the 80-plus thousand in attendance and handshakes and high-fives all over when he returned to the Tide sideline. That response didn't throw the tough-minded kicker for a loop, either, as he booted four more touchbacks in the game.

"Out of the back of the end zone was a little surprising," Alabama special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer said, "but to see him kick it high and deep with consistency was no surprise. It gives everybody a little lift when you kick into the end zone. Last year we had to cover a lot more kicks than average, and any time you do that it gives the opponent a chance to do something with it."

Christensen came to the University of Alabama from Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) located in Newport, Rhode Island. The prep school, open to civilians and enlisted men, offers preparation for entry into the United States Naval Academy. The ethic Christensen acquired at NAPS impressed Bama Head Coach Mike Shula.

"He has worked really hard in the off-season," Shula said. "It sounds funny, a head coach talking strength and conditioning about a kicker. Usually you talk about a defensive back or something but he really has done a nice job."

Coming from a family where his father played baseball in the Houston Astros minor league system and his uncle played football at Southern Cal, Christensen wanted to continue his own athletic endeavors beyond his summer 2002 high school graduation from Norcross (Georgia) High. He took interest in the NAPS because the school offered an option Christensen sought.

"I was looking at schools that had both soccer and football, and Navy had both," Christensen said.

At NAPS Christensen got acclimated to placekicking without a tee and handling kickoffs from the 35-yard line, instead of the 40 as he had in high school. He said he put 75 per cent of his kicks into the end zone during his year there.

"It was a good opportunity because I kicked off of a two-inch block in high school and I went to kicking off the ground. It was a hard transition," he said.

Not surprisingly, the prep school also offered a disciplined environment that begins with a boot camp for newcomers. As the NAPS web site boasts, during the orientation period, midshipmen candidates "will be told what to do, what to think, when to eat, when to sleep... for the next several weeks. They will not have a free moment or be allowed an independent or original thought for the duration of Indoc." Christensen might've been expecting more of a summer camp than a boot camp.

"I met the coaching staff and they made it sound great," Christensen said. "They said it would be a six week boot camp, and that if a member of the band could make it through then I could make it."

"I look back at it now and I say it was a good experience," he said, "but if you had asked me then I would have probably said no. I learned discipline, in my school work and on the field."

Christensen wasn't quite up for the rigors of the Naval Academy, and after a year, he decided to look for another place where he could walk-on as a kicker.

The story of how Christensen landed in Tuscaloosa is still more complicated, though. While on a vacation cruise during spring break of 2003, Alabama Director of Football Operations Randy Ross noticed a man wearing a Norcross High shirt - it turned out to be Christensen's father, Edward. Ross, being familiar with the school, introduced himself. Through that initial meeting, Christensen ended up sending videotape to Alabama and was eventually invited to join the squad.

"I had heard so much about Alabama's tradition throughout my life," the younger Christensen said. "It's hard not to hear about that."

After a redshirt year on the sidelines in 2003, Christensen earned the right to handle Alabama's kickoffs outright as a redshirt freshman in 2004.

"That was the only position that there wasn't any close competition," Ungerer said. "He was close to kicking off for us as a true freshman, but we didn't see the need that late in the season."

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