"I guess I thought, ‘There's the competition,'" said Leigh Tiffin. "But of course I was happy. It meant a 10-win season, which is pretty good." The 13-10 Alabama win over Texas Tech in Dallas gave Bama a 10-2 record and final eighth place national ranking.
One of those perfect solutions: kick is good enough to win for Alabama, but looked bad enough to give hope to competing placekickers.
With his Muscle Shoals High School season over, Tiffin knew he would be coming to Alabama as a walk-on freshman kicker this fall. His Bama future had been assured many years earlier. Although he didn't originally expect to be part of the 105, he has been in camp since Day One of pre-season practice.
In Thursday morning's practice he got his first real football test and passed with flying colors. Jamie Christensen is wearing the orange jersey signifying non-participation status. Christensen injured a groin earlier in the week. One of the aspects of Alabama practice is to put the field goal team in a pressure situation.
That situation is that the field goal team faces a full rush. The kicker gets the opportunity to kick four field goals, each one longer than the previous. If he makes all four, his teammates avoid post-practice conditioning work.
Last week, Christensen made all four, the first time in Bama Head Coach Mike Shula's memory that had happened.
Thursday morning it was Tiffin with the job and he, too, made all four. The third was from 42 yards and was somewhat like Christensen's Cotton Bowl game-winner. The fourth was from 47 yards and went through with plenty of room to spare.
"It's the best we can simulate other than in the stadium of getting some pressure on the kick," Special Teams Coordinator David Ungerer said. "One of our goals is to solidify our number two kicker, and Leigh took a good step towards that today."
Ungerer said he expects Christensen to return, but said Tiffin and Andrew Friedman are being prepared. "I'm hoping that there is no issues with that groin," Ungerer said. "I've been told there's not going to be, but that's why we do what we did today and step up the learning curve."
Leigh bears a striking resemblance to a former Alabama kicker. In fact, the 5-10, 170-pounder bears a lot more than that. His full name is Van Leigh Tiffin, Jr., and his father is remembered for one of the most famous kicks in Alabama history. Playing on the same Tide team as then-quarterback Mike Shula, Van Tiffin connected on a final play, 52-yard field goal to give Alabama a 22-23 win over Auburn to end the 1985 season.
Young Tiffin said that he had seen a tape of that game "several times." And he admitted he had also seen the Daniel Moore print that immortalizes "The Kick" on more than a few occasions. Of course, it's in his home.
Following Thursday morning's success, Leigh was quick to give credit to his snapper, Luke Spaulding, and his holder, punter P.J. Fitzgerald. "They did a great job and I was fortunate enough to get them through," Tiffin said. "I think the coaches wanted to see me under pressure."
Leigh also gives credit to his father. "It was his idea for me to kick off the ground rather than off a tee," Tiffin said. "It wasn't so much about preparing for college. He just thought I'd be more accurate. I always kicked off the ground, but I really didn't get it down until my senior season in high school."
Tiffin said his father still works with him from time-to-time. "He was out kicking with me a couple of years ago and got into a groove and looked like he still had it," the son said.
Leigh Tiffin doesn't know what the 2006 season holds for him. Or the 2007 season for that matter, since Christensen is just a junior. "Jamie's a good kicker and he has proved himself," Tiffin said. "If they need me to kick, I'd love to. It's up to the coaches. We'll just have to wait and see."