Illini Hope to Split Uprights with Kicker

Illinois extended an offer to 2016 kicker Braxton Picard, who visited this past weekend and would likely see action early for the Illini.

Illinois' struggles in the kicking game last year are well-documented. Between David Reisner, Taylor Zalewski, or Ryan Frain, the Illini never established a clear starter at the position.

So it's no surprise that Illinois is targeting a consistent kicker in the 2016 class, and that led to the Illini offering Edmond (OK) kicker Braxton Picard, who is regarded as one of the best placekickers in the country.

Originally a soccer player, Pickard has found his calling as a placekicker. And his skills at that position have landed him two scholarship offers from division one programs, most recently one from the Illini.

"Originally I wasn't really planning on on going to visit," Pickard admitted, "but I ended up planning one and I enjoyed it. So did my parents."

The offer came as a bit of a surprise to the senior-to-be. But the Illinois coaches had seen him kick, and decided that he was worthy of the offer.

"I wasn't really expecting them to offer until coach came down and watched me kick," Pickard said. "Then they ended up offering me two days later. I was excited."

The Illini coaches showed Pickard a warm welcome when he visited this past weekend. His experience on campus left him with a good feeling about Illinois.

"The coaches were very outgoing and nice," he said. "They were happy I was there. They were telling me how I have a great shot to start as a true freshman and help the team turn around. The campus was nice and everything."

Illinois had been after Pickard for some time leading up to his visit. After missing out on a chance to camp in Champaign earlier this summer, Pickard was glad he was able to make it back and stay in touch with the Illinois coaches.

"They had contacted me earlier this summer about coming to their camp," he said. "But I had already planned a camp that day. Then last weekend, I was up at a national camp and did really well, and they contacted me again."

While Pickard is a talented field goal kicker, Illinois coaches have told him they think he could vie for the punting duties as well.

"They want me to come in and take (field goal kicking) over and compete for punting, (too)," Pickard said. "My field goals are what I'm strong at because I love the pressure, but I think I'm good enough to try and take over punting."

Place kicking involves plenty of pressure situations, but Pickard has been in plenty of those throughout both his soccer and football careers, so he handles the moment no sweat anymore.

"I grew up playing soccer, and I came into high school and started as a freshman," he said. "We went pretty far (in the playoffs) so I started getting used to the pressure and I do a lot better under pressure. I'd say soccer helped me develop it."

But with a future in football ahead of him, Pickard's ability to handle the moment will prove valuable, especially now that he will likely be playing on the big stage on Saturdays.

So far, Pickard holds an offer from Army to go along with his Illinois offer. He said he is also hearing often from Oklahoma, Georgia, and Kansas State.

The offer from Illinois was an impactful one for him, though.

"It's pretty big (for me)," he said. "It was exciting to hear they were offering."

Pickard is hopeful he can find a school that offers all of the key components he wants in a university.

"(I'm looking for) good academics, good facilities, nice and outgoing people," he said. "I want to know that I'll be in the right place for the next four years."

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