Sun Devil Kickers Not Short on Confidence

To say that youth is served with ASU's kicker and punter would be an understatement. Sophomore Jesse Ainsworth attempted only 15 field goals last year, while Chris MacDonald takes over the punting duties coming off a redshirt year. Both told DevilsDigest that limited experience or not, they feel poised in their chances of success in 2004.

Jesse Ainsworth had to wait until the third game of last season, against Iowa, to even attempt his first field goal. While the then true freshman missed his inaugural attempt, he ended the year converting 10 out of 15 field goal tries. The sophomore also connected on 25-28 extra points.

Going into this season, Ainsworth told us that he feels primed for a better year. "Coming out of spring practice, I was happy that I gained more confidence," he said. "Having a year of experience really helps, and I think I can take that confidence and built on it for this season."

"I do need to work on my field goal consistency," Ainsworth continued. "I need to make sure that every time I'm out there, especially within 40 yards, that I'm knocking it between the pipes…I'm happy with my kickoffs, I feel that I'm doing well with those." In 2003, Ainsworth connected on 8-9 field goals from 39 yards or less, and had 16 of his kickoffs go for touchbacks

The jokes on kickers and their easy practice regimen have been a staple of football for years now. However, Ainsworth hardly fits that stigma, as he was one of the recipients of the Hard Hat Award for his work in the team's off-season strength and conditioning program. "I gained a couple of pounds to help me through the season," he explained. "I've been working on my leg strength, but also on my leg speed – that's the most important thing to maintain as a kicker. Our conditioning program is really great because it helps you get stronger without losing flexibility."

Mental preparedness can go a long way in contributing to a kicker's success. Ainsworth agrees with that theory. "I focus on the things I do right," he commented, "and I work on maintaining my level of confidence going into a game. You just go out there every time thinking that you can knock it through. I know I worked hard and put in the time and effort with my conditioning and lifting, and it's gonna show this season."

The old football coach cliché says that a player improves the most between their freshman and sophomore season. Listening to the Sun Devil kicker explain his prospects, he concurs with that theory. "This season I have a much different attitude," he remarked. "Last year I was more nervous, not knowing exactly how I would do my job. I was just trying to get through it. This year, I'm really looking forward to go out, and proving myself to be a successful kicker. It comes back again to how much confidence you have in yourself."

Chris MacDonald (pictured) is more than to go through the same motions that Ainsworth experienced last season. The Mesa (Ariz.) Red Mountain high school graduate and former walk-on realized following Letter of Intent day that he was officially the team's starting punter.

"When I didn't see a punter recruited," he recalled, "it told me how much the coaches believe in me. Coming off a season where we had a great punter in Tim Parker, the coaches showed me that they think I'm up to do the job. They were saying to everybody that they felt I can be successful, and that gave me confidence. I know there's competition around me, and nothing will be given to me. I'm just gonna work hard and make sure I play at a high level."

MacDonald lists getting off his punts quickly and increasing his hang time, as the main attributes that he will need improve as he makes his collegiate debut in a little over three weeks. He may have been even rawer of a talent this time last year, but thanks to his predecessor he made significant strides in his game.

"Tim was the best thing that ever happened to me," he exclaimed. "He helped me so much with my punting. I was always a kicker, and only started punting my senior year in high school. I really didn't have any coaching at all. When I came here I was really inconsistent, and right away Tim helped me with my mechanics. It was a great opportunity to have veteran like him help me and I took advantage of it. He put me in the right direction not only mechanically, but mentally."

And with Parker now gone and no current punter likely to snatch away his starting position, MacDonald knows that the bright light will shine brighter than ever on him. "There's pressure no matter what," he remarked in response. "It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior. I just try and concentrate on what I need to do. I do have competition and I still need to win the starting job. I do have big shoes to fill, but I know I can get the job done. I can't wait until Sep. 2nd!" And neither can the maroon and gold coaches and fans…

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