"We had the number one punter in the country and that was Mike McCabe," Meyer said while taking a short break at his football camp last week. "He was already there before we got there. Unfortunately we had an offense where the punter was the most valuable player. We had a bad team and he was a great player."
The bond that was formed between Meyer and McCabe grew strong in those days and it continues to prosper almost two decades later. Meyer trusts McCabe's judgment now just as he trusted him as the punter back at Illinois State.
"After having coached players, I would be surprised if someone would lead a former coach of theirs astray, especially a guy that you have a good relationship with," Meyer said. "If there is a stronger bond than that, I would like to know what it is."
This is a bond that stands to grow stronger since McCabe is the kicking coach for Florida punter Eric Wilbur and incoming freshman placekicker Jonathon Phillips. Wilbur has been the starting punter for the Gators for two years now and he ranks second all-time at Florida in average per punt (43.7). Phillips was signed to be the scholarship placekicker at Florida even though he kicked just one field goal for his Wellington High School team last year.
"We took Jonathan for two reasons," Meyer said. "One was we listened to Coach McCabe and two Dan Mullen went down and watched him hit the ball. If you took him off of film … the film I saw you just can't recruit him off of. Mike has worked with him, and I trust him. He knows I take his word very seriously. Dan watched him and liked what he saw, so we offered."
McCabe has every bit of confidence in his star pupil. Phillips is one of the best he has coached, and he loves the strength Phillips kicks with.
"Jonathan has a great leg," McCabe said. "He is one of the most powerful kickers we have seen or coached. And he did well at all the competitions. He was already offered and committed to Purdue. He was the runner up for the Groza award as a junior in high school. The kid doesn't miss anything inside the 40. Kickoffs, he is hitting 5-8 feet deep and 4.0 seconds in the air ... no one is going to return those. He is out every Sunday with all of our All-American kickers, and so his standard of competition is much higher."
He also has coached Eric Wilbur for quite some time. Wilbur came to the University of Florida on McCabe's recommendation and the marriage between school and punter has been a rewarding one. While still an AP All-SEC punter, Wilbur saw his average decline from is freshman to sophomore season, McCabe has been busy fixing that problem.
Coaches Urban Meyer and Mike McCabe talk kicking mechanics at the camp
"I have been working with Eric Wilbur since high school, McCabe said. "He had a great freshman year and that was because of his mechanics and his drop. Then last summer he went through the phase of I found the 'cure of all cures' and he changed his hold. I told him to do what he wants, but if you don't listen to me, you aren't going to make All-American. You will average maybe 43 and that is exactly what he did. Then he came back and realized this summer that there is a correct way to do it. In our opinion the best way to hold the ball is in a hand shake form. When you hold the ball crooked, your muscles are tense and you can't extend the ball. That is what he was doing. He had some nice 40-yarders that were high, but not the great booming punts from his freshman year. We are also working on directing the ball inside the 10-yard-line so the flyers can get down there and stop the return inside the ten. If you have a good punter, it is a weapon. Field position is everything."
While I had a special teams expert guy cornered, I wanted to find out his idea on the spread punt formation incorporated by Meyer here at Florida and in his previous stops. While I will concede that the formation works great everywhere he has been, it looked like a nightmare waiting to happen in spring practice sometimes. McCabe touched on it a little bit.
"There is one spread formation where everyone is spread out completely, and it is suicide," he said. "What Coach Meyer does is slight spreads with a small gap. What they do is invite the defender into the gap and then push them where they want them to go. You push and then leave them behind. It is an easier release for the guys to get down field on the tackle. The punter should be getting the ball off in under two seconds from the snap. The three up-backs form a little cone and the outside guys pick up outside rushers and the inside rushers pick up anyone from the inside."
It was another man's professional opinion on the matter and I respect that he likes the formation.
McCabe is well rounded in his special teams studies and he has had quite a few exceptional kickers come through his clinics and camps. For McCabe, it is all about the kids and getting them a chance to excel at a level they are able to do so. He understands it isn't for everybody.
"I started One-On-One Kicking back in 2000," he said. "I coached David Simonhoff, Christian Koegel, Eric Wilbur, and Brian Monroe … they were in the top five kickers and punters in the country on the scouting services. I helped them get scholarships to the schools they are at now. It developed from there and from their reputations we started to get more kids and talent. We started the Kicking Expo for scouts to look at talent and kids. We don't charge a lot for the Expo and in the end, I get on the phone and recruit for them. Kids pay thousands of dollars for companies to do that and sometimes the kids wind up with nothing. We had over 40 kids sign with Division I, II and 1-AA.
He started taking the camp on the road this last week here in Gainesville where more than 80 kickers showed up to compete at the Urban Meyer Football Camp. McCabe looks at it as a way to branch out and more importantly to be able to spotlight more kids. He wants to take the camp to more schools across the country.
"A lot of universities are coming to us now, because of how we train our kickers," he said. "It is not about kicking the ball all the time, it is about drill work and muscle memory. That is how we built our reputation, because these guys are making All-American because of their work ethic.
"When a special team coach tells me 'I have never seen a kid come back with such a great work ethic,' that makes me feel good. We have become the most successful training facility in the country. That makes me feel good, because these guys help me coach and help it succeed. It's not a camp where we get a lot of money and "see ya." It is a camp where we will tell you if you have the ability and if you don't we are going to tell you, you don't. Next summer we are going to other college camps, like Oklahoma, USC, West Virginia, Florida, and Miami. We are going to open it up to these universities in different areas so more kids can come out. We aren't making a lot of money on that, the camp people do.
"We look at 5,000 reels of film and find the best guys out there to compete. I invite all the kids that have the ability to get to the next level. I don't want to waste their time if they don't."
The list of success stories is growing every year for McCabe and his One-On-One Kicking organization. He likes the family that he is building with these kids.
Christian Koegel just finished his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts. Koegel was on hand last week in Gainesville to help out his mentor. It is something that McCabe has inspired in his kickers.
"I think Coach McCabe has done a good job with me," Koegel said. "I have been with him for four years. Obviously he is ranked number one for a reason because he is incredible as a coach. If you have a chance to come out here and look at the punters he has handled and actually coached. I came out of high school at number two in the nation and I worked with him every week. Right now I am averaging 41.3 yards as a freshman at UMass."
Deerfield Beach's David Simonhoff just came off a great season at Southeast Missouri State where he finished second in Division 1-AA in punting. He has nothing but high praise for the work that McCabe does.
"He has been coaching me for almost four years," Simonhoff said. "As far as the entire perspective, he is solid and thorough about everything. I have been real happy with my progress. I am averaging 46 yards a punt. I met him at a summer camp and he worked with me a lot to try and get a scholarship."
As for the future, Blake Klingon of Coral Springs (FL) is a rising junior is averaging 47 yards a punt right now. He works with Coach McCabe and attended the Florida camp. Miami Killian senior to be Alonso Rojas, averaged 41 yards last year and it is improving dramatically this summer. He was also in attendance with Coach McCabe and continues to follow him around for more instruction.
One-On-One Kicking instructor Mike McCabe is well thought of around the country and has been inadvertently valuable to the kicking positions on the University of Florida roster as of late. His family atmosphere and professional approach to kicking is starting to earn him a great deal of respect in the college community and beyond. His camp has a website at: http://www.oneononekicking.com/