If you want to kick at Nebraska, you have some big shoes you are going to have to fill, if you pardon the slight play on words.
Michael Branthover might be a candidate to do just that.
During the last month or so, he's been on a tour of sorts, camping and unofficially visiting schools all the way from the University of Maryland, located right in his stomping grounds on the east coast, to Nebraska, which is obviously a bit of a stretch west. Included in that Midwestern trip was a camp at Kansas State. And he's still not done. "I am going to Virginia Tech on July 10th, and I have a camp at N.C. State tomorrow," he said. "I was at Nebraska on June 13th and 14th for the kicking academy."
The trip to see the Huskers stems from a visit the Huskers made to his school, Dematha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland. "They sent a recruiter to our school one day. Our head coach told me about that, and I talked to the recruiter who said they were interested in taking a kicker. So, my interest rose a bit, and me and my dad took a trip out there," he said.
It's obvious Nebraska is trying to find a kicker to replace one Alex Henery, who might as well etch his name in the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame right now. From his sheer consistency to his mammoth game-winning leg, you can chalk up more than a few wins that wouldn't have been, if not for this Nebraska native.
It's impossible to know what Branthover will do in college, of course. You could say the same for Henery, who walked onto the Huskers before earning a scholarship the very next year. Michael is hoping for the latter in regard to early opportunity. But he recognizes the reality of the situation when it comes to the position he plays. "It would be great to get a scholarship, but I know that's really rare. So, it wouldn't bother me if I had to walk on and do that," he said. "But it would be nice to find a scholarship out there somewhere. "
It's hard to say if he will or won't. But it won't be for a lack of potential. If you want a leg, he's got it as he said that's the comment he's heard most during his time at these camps. It's backed up by a career-best 44-yard field goal during an actual game, as well as the one he kicked at a Kansas State camp this month. "It went 59 yards off the ground. I know that's a big thing for coaches to see, because you don't kick off a tee in college like you do in high school," he said.
Add to that the category of kickoffs, where Branthover said his touch back percentage in high school is right around 80 percent. That's 10 yards closer to the end zone than in college, by the way. But at the Nebraska camp he exhibited some of the kind of stats you need to see in order to know he can do it at the next level. "I think at the camps I was hitting 70 yards for a hang time of 4.08 and then I hit another for 75 yards and around a 3.8," he said.
We obviously can't give you the hang time, but Adi Kunalic, Nebraska's resident boomer off the tee, averaged just over 68 yards per kickoff last year.
So, on paper at least, it looks like the 5-9, 170 lbs. kicker has what it takes. Now the question is, who are his favorites. Branthover said that his list is obviously wide open as an offer from any one of these schools or someone else entirely, could change this picture. But of what he knows right now these are the schools he's giving the hardest look. "I'm not limiting my choices here, but right now anyway, I know Virginia Tech is looking for a kicker, but they said they won't scholarship one this year," he said. "I know Kansas State is looking for one, and I know Nebraska is obviously looking too. Also, I was at West Virginia's camp, and I know they are looking for a kicker. Maryland is looking for someone to do punting and kicking both.
"I don't have any offers right now, but hoping to get one before my senior year starts."
As far as where Nebraska stands, he has liked what he's seen so far. "That was the first time I have ever been there. It was really nice, and I guess it was kind of what you expect a bit; kind of flat, a lot of corn and all that," he said with a laugh. "It was definitely more of a city school, and it's a larger campus then I had seen up to that point. And the stadium is just huge. I guess the place has been sold out for like 300 games or even more than that.
"So, if you want a college football town, it would be hard to get much better than that."
It's obvious that if one school does offer him, that will more than likely move them to the head of the bunch. But as Branthover indicated about Virginia Tech, that's perhaps not the way he'll be able to go. Nebraska didn't offer Henery, and it's hard to argue with the results, though, you have to think that his performance was rare.
As it is, Branthover is ready for whatever. "I'm looking at all options. If I have to walk on I will. But I am hoping to get an offer, of course," he said. "I'm looking at everyone, too. I don't care about distance, weather isn't an issue and I just want a shot. I'm just trying to get out there and show some schools what I can do. I guess we'll see how it all goes."