Auburn, Ala--The Auburn Tigers have several question marks as they prepare to play the Kansas State Wildcats, but none as pressing as the kicking game where they must replace four-year starters John Vaughn and Kody Bliss as well as kickoff man Matt Clark.
Handling the punting duties will be redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker. After struggling with a strained groin during preseason practices, Shoemaker has been very good the last two weeks. Because of that the redshirt freshman says he heads into the season opener with a lot of confidence.
" I'm pretty excited," Shoemaker says. "I'm looking forward to getting out there. It's really surreal. It's all happening so fast. This week has been the slowest week of my life. I'm just ready to get out there. I have been hitting the ball really good and consistent. As a team we've been consistent on special teams and I'm really excited about that and I'm looking forward to getting out there."
One positive for Shoemaker and fellow kicking freshman Wes Byrum is the amount of time the Auburn coaches spent on special teams in the month leading up to Saturday night's opener. Choosing to spend extra time on the kicking game has given the players more confidence in what they are doing and is something that Shoemaker says makes Auburn the place to be for a kicker or punter looking to improve his craft.
"That was a huge reason for me coming to Auburn," Shoemaker says. "I love the way they emphasize the special teams. We spend so much time on it. It's a third of the game and we take it like that. We put so much emphasis on it and it pays off. If you look at our past games, last year we won a lot of games on special teams. We hope to do that this year, too, and I think we can."
Watching from the sidelines every game last season as he served as the backup to Bliss, Shoemaker says he took it all in as he got a chance to learn from one of the best ever at Auburn. Now he says he's ready to take what he learned from Bliss onto the field with him in 2007.
"It helped me a lot to be able to go out there and run out of the tunnel," Shoemaker says. "I got a chance to get used to the crowd noise and go through warm ups with Kodi. He walked me through things. That's helped me a lot."
Something that Shoemaker says you can never get prepared for is that feeling you get on opening night when you take the field for the first time. No matter how many times they have done it, even the veterans say it's something you have to try to control your emotions during and after. For Shoemaker he says that has started even earlier in the week.
"It's kind of an incredible feeling," Shoemaker says. "I have been dreaming about getting out there. I can't wait. You're just so excited about getting out there but you have to keep yourself down to earth and be calm. You've got a job to do so you have to get out there and perform. I'm looking forward to it."