Memo to Mids: Don't Kick Yourselves

If you care about Navy football, if you bleed for the Brigade, if you invest yourself at all in the Navy program, you should know the importance of the kicking game at a level beyond the ordinary.

Yes, if you're old enough to remember what Navy football endured in the early to mid 1990s, you know that kicking, especially placekicking, can have profound ramifications--not just on a football team's fate, but on the lives of kickers themselves.

First, and solely related to the field of play, there was the 1995 Army-Navy game, when head coach Charlie Weatherbie--a good guy and a pretty decent coach who would eventually lead the Naval Academy to a bowl victory over Cal a year later--made one decision he'd like to have back, even to this day: he eschewed an 18-yard field goal that would have given Navy a two-possession (16-7) lead over the Cadets in the fourth quarter. Instead of kicking on that fateful 4th and goal, Weatherbie chose to go for it. Navy failed. Army proceeded to drive 99 yards for a touchdown and a 14-13 win.

But then there was another 18-yard field goal, an 18-yarder that WAS kicked, and this one hurts so much more in the long run of history, enough that it doesn't seem right to mention all the grisly details.

Simply say the words "Ryan Bucchianieri," and any diehard Navy alumnus or friend of the Naval Academy (we're not even talking football here, just the Academy in its totality) is likely to tear up, so sad was that unfortunate lad's trail through an all-too-brief and emotionally tortured life.

Kicking has profound implications at the Naval Academy.

Part of why last year was a success, then, was the fact that placekicker Eric Rohlfs and punter John Skaggs were so dependable. Rohlfs nailed eight of ten field goals on a team whose offense was so prolific and potent that it usually didn't settle for field goals. Skaggs simply averaged over 41 net yards per punt, a sensational average on high-flying kicks worthy of a spot on the Blue Angels.

This year, the kicking game will once again be a question mark in Annapolis. Geoff Blumenfield will try to provide field goals when necessary, while Mick Yokitis, though a player Paul Johnson won't want to take the field that often as a punter (he will double as a receiver), will be needed on occasion to provide field position for the defense. With every opponent upping its intensity a notch against the Midshipmen, there will be a tough, tight field-position kind of football game at some point on the 2004 slate. In this contest--if not in other games when Aaron Polanco leads a dominant Navy offense that renders field goals and punts unnecessary--Navy's kickers will have to rise to the moment and make the ball rise between the uprights or into the coffin corner.

Navy's fortunes have risen or fallen in the past because of the kicking game. If this year's kickers get into the (leg) swing of things, last year's success can be improved on, not just sustained.


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