Brabbs expects to kick for Michigan

With the departure of Hayden Epstein, the Wolverines are searching for a new placekicker. Phil Brabbs believes that he is the man for the job.

Phil Brabbs goes a through the same ritual before each kickoff, extra point and field goal attempt. He takes a few steps back then shifts just a bit to the side, while repeating his favorite Bible verse over and over in his head: "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13).

During the last three years with the Wolverines, Brabbs (Midland, MI / H.H. Dow) saw very little on-field action, but a little faith and a lot of hard work has put him in a position to be the primary place kicker for Michigan this fall.

"For a long time I was just doing things for me," Brabbs said. "I was putting too much pressure on myself, over-thinking every kick. But now I just try to concentrate on glorifying God."

Recently, Brabbs shared his success story and signed autographs at a local punt, pass, and kick competition.

"When I was 15, I went to the Silverdome for the state finals of the punt, pass, and kick," Brabbs said. "That was where I really first learned I had a gift for kicking a football. I'm really looking forward to getting back and helping out with the event and the Christian outreach."

But as soon as the event was over, he returned to Ann Arbor to prepare for what could be his breakout season.

Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr has been very clear that the kicking duties will be up for grabs during camp, which started August 10.

But Brabbs, a fourth-year junior, said that he has already been assured that he will get some on-field time this season.

"I know that I'll be doing the kickoffs this year, and I think I have a great chance of winning the field goal job too," Brabbs said. "I have high hopes. I'm getting excited about it just talking to you."

Brabbs is very confident in his leg strength and considers himself to be the top long-range scoring threat for the Wolverines.

"If we need a 52-yarder, then I am going to be the man," Brabbs said. "I just need to go in to camp and prove that I can do everything they need me to do."

All the major preseason magazines have listed Brabbs at the top of the depth chart, but three different kickers have a legitimate shot at replacing senior Hayden Epstein, who recently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Brabbs' primary competition for the job will come from junior Troy Neinberg, although sophomore Luke Perl will also be in the mix.

"Philip Brabbs has an outstanding leg and really gets the ball up and really has fine potential," Carr said. "Troy Nienberg had a very good spring, he doesn't have the distance capabilities that Brabbs has, but both of those guys are going to compete very well."

Despite being engaged in a very tight battle for playing time, all three are still very good friends. They continue to support one another, and Brabbs says that they hang out together all the time, even after spending countless hours kicking together at practice.

"We just have a ton of talented guys here," Brabbs said. "I look around and think that any of us could be kicking at another Big Ten school. It's going to be a shame that one of us will have to be a third-string guy."

Regardless of the field goal situation, Brabbs, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 195 pounds, is already looking forward to his chances to make a tackle on the kickoff team. He doesn't like the label of being "just a kicker."

"After playing defensive back in high school, I was worried that I wouldn't be respected by the other guys because all I did was kick," Brabbs said. "I didn't like the idea of being the lonesome kicker."

But those worries quickly melted away during his freshman year, when he proved his athletic prowess to Ronald Bellamy. Bellamy, who will be the top receiver for Michigan this fall, apparently underestimated the Brabbs' skills in a sandlot game.

Brabbs beat him deep on an up-and-under route to score a touchdown and garner some bragging rights for his fellow kickers.

"I guess he didn't think I could do that," said Brabbs, who was also an All-Conference defensive back in high school. "We still talk about that one."

As much fun as that one-on-one success story was, Brabbs really earned the respect of the teammates during grueling practice sessions.

"People think that just because we are kickers, we get lighter workouts. But we do the same conditioning as everybody else," Brabbs said. "All the other guys see you working hard every day, and they respect that."

Brabbs says his favorite practice moment came just last week, when the kickers finished 1-2-3 in a bizarre 400-yard race, during which the players were required to shove a large piece of wood down the field while running on all fours.

"Every muscle in your body burns after that event," Brabbs said. "That is why Michigan is the best – even our kickers train as hard as anyone in the country."

Brabbs will have the honor of kicking off the Wolverines' 2002 campaign in front of a national television audience and 110,000 screaming fans in the Big House on August 30 against Washington.

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