Specialist Sobiesk Now Getting In His Kicks

Here's what makes being a Mississippi State specialist so simple, at least in practice. The way Dan Mullen runs things means kickers know the score. So Evan Sobiesk wasn't really surprised at last week's promotion to primary placekicker.

"Yeah, I kicked pretty well throughout the whole week. Thursday I went five-for-five, and walked over to the side. Me and Devon were talking and he was like shoot, be ready to go man when they give you the call."

That call did indeed come. When Mississippi State kicked for points at South Carolina, it was second-fall freshman Sobiesk drawing the duty. Just as he'd been told in-advance.

"I did good in practice and Coach came up to me Friday and was like, you had the pest percentages, you ready go to? I said yeah! And he told me I was going to start."

Mullen's move in game-eight, giving Sobiesk the job in place of veteran sophomore Devon Bell, worked out well. Sobiesk made the routine point-after following the first Bulldog touchdown, on the opening drive of the day no less; and before halftime added a 38-yard field goal.

To most Mississippi State minds this signaled a full-time change at placekicker. Sobiesk, and for that matter Bell, know better. Because what they two do, or don't, during this week's practice will determine who is booting balls out of a hold at Texas A&M this weekend. So don't go calling this a complete change of the guard—kicker, rather—just yet.

"It's very friendly," says Sobiesk about the continued competition. "I mean it's competitive, we definitely battle with each other. But it's not anything I guess opponent-wise. It's us just trying to help each other out."

And in the process hopefully cure a seriously sore point of the 2013 season. Bell was expected to take care of all placekicking this season, after shaking off a slow freshman start to make 14 of 21 attempts in '12. His obvious and impressive leg strength implied all the potential possible for a college kicker.

That prowess is still present, as Bell's improved and excellent kickoff work this season shows. Having tallied 13 touchbacks as a rookie Bell already has 21 this season out of 43 and many of the others were crunched into the end zone, just returned out of it. So there's no leg going limp here. Accuracy? That's been another issue with 5-of-11 makes on three-pointers.

As early as September, the coaching staff was at least hinting at the potential for change. In a blowout of Troy, backup Sobiesk took care of the fourth quarter with both a PAT and a 24-yard field goal to make a successful college debut. Still to change the starter had to be earned, not awarded. Sobiesk understood.

"Really I was there for moral support and I was working every day. If they put me in the game I was going to get ready for my shot, and if I got my opportunity hopefully I was going to make it, just do everything I know to do."

This past Saturday, now, Sobiesk got to show it on a Southeastern Conference field. And yes, that was a very different deal. "Yeahhhhh…the first field goal I kicked was against Troy. It was late in the game, nobody was there. South Carolina? Coming into the first half, still a close ball game, and running on the field in the second quarter and looking into the student section…you try to keep your head down and make the kick!"

"Honestly, I was a little nervous before I went out. And as soon as I started running on the field you lose your train of thought, it's just like practice you know? You take your three steps, two over, and keep your head down, drive through it." And he did…though Sobiesk admits there was some added stress on the field goal beyond glancing at that rowdy student section.

"The extra point didn't really mean anything, it was 20 yards. You run on the field, left-hash, 38 or 39 yards. And the game clock was actually at five so I tried to stay calm!" Now once the ball passed clean between the uprights, that calm was gone.

"Dak (Prescott) gave me a high-five, I looked (Baker) Swedenburg and Devon, it just felt so good. I was excited I got that one off my back. Knowing you get the first one off it's not going to be any nerve-wracking."

Neither is practice for that matter. What also keeps things on a cooperative basis, if competition can be called so, is the clarity of where everyone stands. When decisions are made strictly by the numbers, that erases notions that the coach is picking his kicker by whim or by prejudice or by whatever intangible. To be sure Mullen will watch his kickers in pre-game for any signs of struggles that day and change course if needed.

"Yeah, I try not to think about percentages. I just go out there and do my thing and if I make it I make it. If I don't well then I worry about the next kick."

The change seems welcome to Bell as well. He's been assuming a larger role in State's punting game; originally as the perceived ‘long' punter where steady senior Swedenburg's reputation is for consistent hang-time and placement. There is the ironic aspect here in pushing a Ray Guy Award nominee into the secondary role. But Swedenburg is a team player entirely too, and when—not if—need for his skills arises the senior will be back onfield.

Sobiesk, like Bell, was the typical high school specialist who didn't specialize on what sort of kicks; he did them all at Oak Grove. The difference was Bell was announced on Signing Day while Sobiesk reported as a walk-on. The proposition was made clear up-front.

"I kind of knew it when I was coming in. When I was getting recruited Coach Mullen was like you know, I need you on field goals 100%. He knew I wasn't a huge kickoff guy and Devon was out of high school so I figured that was going to be his job. My opportunity to kick as going to be on-side kicks and field goals. So I kind of had that idea."

Hmmm, did Sobiesk just tip a foot about another specialty? As in, when he does come out for kickoffs can return teams pack the front after that news? "Ahhhh, well, kind of! We do it in Thursdays and whoever does best and Coach Mullen feels is best at it then we'll go out and do it. Both of us intend to be ready and if he calls, he calls."

However there's one item in which Sobiesk won't compete with Bell. Do not look for him to show up any Saturday soon wearing those so-orange-they-look-pink cleats that Bell sports. "Absolutely not," Sobiesk says. Not even the prior example of Derek DePasquale's screaming yellow shoes will sway this specialist to stand out.

"You know, you have your preferences. I like to stay unnoticed for my black cleats and be done with it."

So on the footwear front everyone knows the score.


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