Bloomington, Ind. - Bill Lynch is saying some things about Austin Starr now that wouldn't have been so easy to utter a year ago.
"Having worked with him and watched him kick every day, he's a good kicker," Lynch said.
A little more than 12 months ago, Starr was in the midst of a muddied free-for-all along with Nick Ford and Michael Hines, battling it out for the right to be the team's place-kicker. By the time camp came to a close, Starr had won the job more by default than deed, as each of the kickers struggled leading up to the season-opener.
When the 2006 season did get underway, things went pretty much as many feared they might…badly. Starr made 27 and 28-yard field goals in the season opener against Western Michigan, but had a couple of extra points blocked. In that game the IU staff also opted twice to go for first downs instead of field goals when the kicks would have been inside 50 yards.
Lynch never doubted Starr's talent – he's always displayed a strong leg – but the coaching staff's confidence in him was developed over the next month. After missing a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter in IU's week two match-up against Ball State, Starr kicked a 35-yarder early in the fourth quarter that would eventually prove to be the game-winner. Then, in IU's come-from-behind 34-32 win at Illinois, Starr slipped a 33-yard field goal inside the upright as time expired to give IU its first Big Ten road win in five years.
"I'd have to say the one at Ball State (is what turned it around)," Lynch said. "As I remember, we were coming back he missed on (earlier). Then he came back and hit (the game-winner).
"Then, to do it again at Illinois. Once a guy does it twice, he knows, ‘I can really do this.'"
Starr has been proving his success wasn't a fluke ever since. He wound up 12-of-15 on field goals a year ago, and he's made 15-of-16 kicks thus far this season, including five out of six field goal attempts. The staff's newfound confidence was never more apparent than last week, when they allowed Starr to attempt a 48-yard field goal in the rain in Kalamazoo in the fourth quarter.
Starr converted the career-long attempt, giving the Hoosiers a 16-point lead and putting a halt to the Broncos' second-half surge.
"To get that game to 16 changed the whole course of events that would have to take place," Lynch said.
With each successful kick, Lynch gains more confidence in his placekicker, but Starr said the confidence he's had in his own abilities has never wavered.
"He asked me before the 48-yarder if I wanted to kick it, and of course I said yes," Starr said. "I'll say yes on every one. I'm not afraid for even a 60-yarder."
A 60-yard attempt likely isn't in Starr's immediate future, but he said he talks with Lynch before each game to let him know how far his range extends depending on the conditions. In Kalamazoo Starr told Lynch he needed the offense to get the ball to the 25-yard line on the south end, and that he was good fro the 30-33 yard line on the north end. On Starr's 48-yarder on the north end, the offense stalled at the 31-yard line before Starr delivered his clutch kick.
"Coach Lynch has been very good at communicating with me on how I feel before each game," Starr said.
Starr, meanwhile, has been very good at delivering for the Hoosiers in clutch situations. A year ago he admits nerves were an issue as was the fear of losing the faith of the coaching staff if he missed a kick or two, but now he knows he has the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
"I'd say the first game last year, we competed (for the job) up to that first game, and I was still in competition mode, worrying about ‘what if I do miss? Will coach doubt me as IU's kicker?'" Starr said. "Now, I know I have the job, and the only person I'm competing with is myself. And if I keep that mentality, I'll keep getting better."
With Struggles Behind Him, Starr Now Shines
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