With two-a-days just barely underway, the competition has heated up for the place kicker position. Two sophomores, Michael Ziifle of Newnan, Georgia, and Brian Bostick from Cullman will battle it out against redshirt freshman Mike McLaughlin from Gautier, Mississippi for the starting spot.
"I think the competition is great," Ziifle, a former high school soccer star, said. "Whoever starts this fall will have definitely earned the spot. Everyone has kicked well so far."
Left to right, Brian Bostick, Mike McLaughlin, and Michael Ziifle.
To this point none of the kickers have stolen the spot; all three of the players have a shot at the first position on the depth chart. Alabama had been fairly spoiled with the late addition of Neal Thomas two years ago.
The reliable Tide kicker began his Alabama career as a junior on August 16, 2000, when he joined that year's 105 roster as a late addition and promptly won the starting spot. Thomas finished his first year at Alabama as the leading scorer with 54 points, a perfect 27-27 on extra point attempts and 9-13 on field goal attempts. After handling the same duties last season as a senior, he finished his college career playing alongside Andrew Zow in the Gridiron Classic in Orlando earlier this year.
Thomas is helping keep track of every kick that the players attempt in practice, so the coaches can have "cold, hard statistics" to look at when making the decision.
"It's all going to come down to consistency," Bostick said.
The kickers currently in the race all have potential for a break out season. Bostick finished slightly ahead in spring practice, but Ziifle and McLaughlin have strengths of their own and have evened up the race.
Junior long snapper Nick Ridings provided a quick scouting report on the competitors. "Ziifle's got a really strong leg. He doesn't let things get to him when he plays.
"Brian (Bostick) kicks the ball well. He's got a good head and keeps calm.
"Mike (McLaughlin) played well in high school and he's still young, but has improved so much already. All three of them have grown up a lot since they have started here."
It's possible that the ultimate decision on who will kick for Alabama in the opening game will be delayed until classes begin and other candidates can join the competition. But the Tide coaches would frankly prefer that one of the incumbents step up to take the job during fall camp.
"It's pretty tough competition right now with three good kickers," Bostick said. "I think I'm just looking ahead to the first game at MTSU for the team, I hope Alabama plays well there."
"I would like to be the starter and have a great season, but if that is not going to happen then I just want to help the team win any way I can," Ziifle said. "I really want the team to have a good season and not worry about if I get the job or not."
McLaughlin a Parade All-American following his senior year in high school agrees. "We should all be even for the job unless someone freaks out. Of course I hope to win the job in the next couple of days, but I'm sure the other two already said that."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione has said that paring down the early reporting roster to the 105 limit was an extremely tough process. Obviously preference was given to the three returning kickers from last year's team. But no fewer than three (maybe more) additional placekickers are scheduled to join the team following two-a-days, including two freshman and a junior college transfer.
It's possible that the job will be determined during fall camp, but it's also possible that the decision will be put off until after the full squad reports on August 21.