Bowden Impressed with Kickers, Including Walk-On

It's pretty safe to say that Aaron Hunt won't go down as the greatest placekicker in Clemson history even though he left as the school's all-time leading scorer. Nonetheless, for four years, there was never a question as to who would trot onto the field whenever it was time for a field goal or extra point.

Placekicking is an aspect fans and media generally don't give much thought until a crucial kick is missed or made. Generally, the attention is focused on the status of the stars and playmakers.

But now that Hunt has moved on, attention has once again turned toward the position that few ever give much consideration.

Prior to the start of practice, the general consensus was that sophomore Jad Dean, who handled the kickoffs last year, would inherit the job as the team's placekicker. It was also assumed that Stephen Furr, a junior that handled the kickoff duties in 2002, would be Dean's backup.

However, all that has changed.

Enter walk-on freshman Mark Buchholz, who comes to Clemson on a soccer scholarship and looks more like a surfer from Southern California than a football player. He has long, bleached-blonde hair and doesn't possess the Southern accent that one might expect from a person that graduated from Chattahoochee High in Duluth, Ga. His presence has been a pleasant surprise to the Tigers coaching staff and has made the placekicking job an open competition.

"Those three guys have looked really good," Bowden said. "Buchholz has a really, really strong leg. He's a guy that can possibly kickoff, also. He kicked it in the end zone yesterday, deep in the end zone. Now it's just refining his field goal skills."

Buchholz (pronounced Buck-holes) is enjoying the competition with his new teammates.

"It's been great," he said. "We're all working hard and we're all pretty much neck-and-neck right now. No one is pulling away. (Wednesday) we start going two-a-days and maybe someone will start pulling away. We're pretty much making all the same kicks.

"Dean, right now, has the strongest leg. But me and Furr are right there. We both have the 60-yard leg. It's real dead-even. Our percentages are all right there close to each other. It's incredible how the three of us are battling right now."

How close is the race between the three kickers? On Tuesday, only one field goal was missed between the three.

"I think all three of us are doing great," said Dean, a native of Greenwood. "It's pretty intense. Coach Bowden is watching and the rest of the team is watching, but it's going pretty good. It's kind of hard to put one kicker ahead of the other."

"We're all pretty close in distance," Furr said. "But it's not too many times that you're going to try and kick a 75-yarder in a game. But we've all got the range to go back to 60."
Furr, a native of Lakeland, Fla., was pretty much an afterthought prior to the start of fall practice. But he, too, has just a good of a chance as the other two to win the job.

"We're all pretty close in distance," Furr said. "But it's not too many times that you're going to try and kick a 75-yarder in a game. But we've all got the range to go back to 60.

"You look at it like you make your kicks and you cheer the other guys on to make theirs. You don't want to be down on them. I think that's just bad for the competition. If you want to be the best kicker in the ACC, you want to have the best competition in practice."

The situation, though, is a little different for Buchholz, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 205. The soccer team has its first team meeting today and he's going to have to handle both practices on the same day.

What he plans to do is work with the football team for the first 30 minutes or so, which is when the kickers do most of their kicking. He'll then quickly change and bust it on over to the soccer field and practice for head coach Trevor Adair.

Even though Clemson has a good history of kickers playing both sports – Obed Ariri was an All-American kicker in 1980 and Donald Igwebuike was an All-American kicker in 1984, it's still going to be difficult for Buchholz, who kicked a 58-yard field goal in high school that hit halfway up the right upright, to manage his time.

"Coach (Danny) Ford, I think did it," Bowden said. "I'll call them over for a staff meeting and ask them how to do it."

Buchholz, though, is looking forward to the challenge.

"It's a real long day. But I'm for it. I love being on the fields," he said. "I signed a scholarship with soccer, so obviously I'm obligated to be with them as much as I can. Soccer games are usually Wednesday and Sunday and the football games are Saturday and they're usually traveling right after the game. Most of the soccer games are in Carolinas, except one at Maryland and a weekend up in Rhode Island. It seems to work pretty well."

But to be honest, playing football was really an afterthought for Buchholz. He could have cared less if he ever put on a helmet again.

"I really had a lot of pressure in high school because everyone in the state wanted me to take the football scholarships. But soccer is just where my heart is," he said. "After I signed with Clemson, my father and I came up and talked to Bowden and he said the placekicking job was open because the kicker graduated last year. Punting was where my heart was. I was All-State in high school, so I figured I'd push Cole Chason a little bit, also.

"But I probably would have come here anyways for soccer just because they're so good. Like I said earlier, that's where my love is. But it was just a bonus that they let me have a go with the football team as well."

However, should the look-alike surfer continue to make waves, he may have to be wrestled away from the soccer team for good.

"Today's the first day that we worked with Mark Buchholz that much, but he was pretty impressive," Bowden said. "Trevor might have to bite the bullet on that."

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