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Headline: Worth The Wait
By Dave Biddle
It's been a long road for Aaron Pettrey, but it appears as though everything has worked out well for the kicker from Raceland, Ky.
Pettrey joined Ohio State's team this fall as a walk-on. He has been promised a scholarship by the Buckeyes following the 2005 season.
"I was going to grayshirt this year, but now I'm coming in as a walk-on for the first quarter," Pettrey said. "And then I'll be on scholarship beginning winter quarter."
Just a few months ago, things didn't look good for Pettrey. Josh Huston was applying for a sixth year of eligibility (which was eventually granted), plus there were two other kickers on the roster: Jonathan Skeete and walk-on Ryan Pretorius.
A team doesn't usually carry four kickers, but Pettrey was told there was room for him at OSU if he was willing to go the grayshirt route. He agreed, and was preparing for a long-term competition with Skeete and Pretorius.
However, Skeete put his status with the team in doubt when he was arrested for selling marijuana to undercover officers during winter quarter. He is awaiting trial and is currently suspended from the football team.
However, when the door closed on Skeete, one opened for Pettrey.
"Yeah, I think that kind of helped out," Pettrey said. "Well, not helped out, but got the ball rolling for me."
Through thick and thin, Pettrey stayed with OSU. He had options, but didn't want to play for another school. He wanted to be a Buckeye.
"Yeah, it's been real tough sitting out for a year and a half," he said. "I've played this game since I was 10 and it hasn't been easy not being part of a team. But I believe things happen for a reason. Everything seems to be working out for the best. And sitting out has actually helped me get ready for college. Playing for Ohio State is what I've always wanted to do."
After graduating high school in 2004, Pettrey took classes at Ashland Community College for six months. He then transferred to Ohio University-Southern in Ironton. That school uses a quarter system like OSU.
One thing about Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is that he likes kickers who are also athletes. Pettrey, who was his high school's starting quarterback for two years (as well as a basketball and baseball standout), more than fits the bill.
As a junior in 2002, Pettrey threw for 2,726 yards (71 percent completion percentage) and 32 touchdowns. As a senior, he threw for 2,469 yards (72.8 percent) and 22 touchdowns.
His completion percentage as a senior is still a Kentucky state record.
Oh yeah, he did a little kicking as well. He drilled 8 of 12 field goal attempts as a senior, including a state record 58-yarder. He also made a 53-yarder in the same game.
Yes, he has a big leg … and it's gotten even stronger.
"Going to the ground was different," Pettrey said of kicking without a tee. "But I got my distance back, and now I've got even more."
The 6-1, 185-pound Pettrey trained hard during the off-season as he prepared for his OSU career.
"I ran, lifted and kicked every day, or at least every other day," he said. "I kicked about 15 field goals from 30-40 yards, then 15 from 40-50, then 15 from 50-60. After that, I did about 10-12 kickoffs."
Tressel knows that Pettrey likely won't be in the mix this year – Huston has the job virtually locked down – but he was happy to see Pettrey stick it out and live out his dream of playing for the Buckeyes.
"I love persistence," Tressel said. "Aaron Pettrey had to fight his way through the (academic) circumstances that he was faced with, and he wanted to be here. So, I know he's excited. To be honest with you, he was in our senior camp in 2003. He's been out there doing his thing and trying to get here. We're excited because he was good then and we assume he's going to keep doing it because he's been working.
"In the fall, he won't be on scholarship. But beginning in winter, the plan is to put him on scholarship."
Pettrey had to pinch himself at OSU's photo day in mid-August. It was his first time donning the scarlet and gray.
"It feels great," Pettrey said. "I'm here finally in the stadium with the uniform on, it feels good."
Pettrey is wearing the No. 20 this season. Not exactly a kicker's number, but neither was the No. 85 worn by former OSU All-American kicker Mike Nugent.
"I'll probably end up with this one," Pettrey said of the No. 20. "This is the number I wore in basketball. I don't think my football number will open up too soon – that's No. 7."
Well, actually, there's a good chance that No. 7 will be available following the 2006 season if Ted Ginn Jr. turns pro.
"That's true. Maybe," Pettrey said with a smile. "But I think I'll just stick with this one."
Prior to camp, Pettrey felt that he would have a chance of winning the starting job this season. But he is now ready to take a back seat to Huston.
"Right now, yeah, Josh has the job," Pettrey said. "Josh and I were kicking the week before camp started and I ended up pulling my groin. So, I wasn't able to kick for a few weeks. But Josh came to camp kicking real well, he looks real good and I think he's going to have a big year. He's got the job pretty much locked up."
But that could be a good thing in the long run for Pettrey. It will give him an extra year in the program.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "Redshirt and get stronger, get better."
Ohio State is different than most college football teams in that it doesn't have a special teams coach, per se. Tressel is the de-facto special teams coach.
"Right now, it's just kind of us and one of the graduate assistant coaches, he kind of works with the kickers," Pettrey said. "But really, the kicking coach is Coach Tressel. He's always charting and watching us, telling us what we're doing wrong and stuff. It's mainly him."
Tressel has a history of producing good kickers. Jeff Wilkins kicked for him at Youngstown State and is still enjoying a successful NFL career with the St. Louis Rams. And, of course, Nugent was the second-round pick of the New York Jets in the 2005 draft.
"Oh yeah, that played into my decision big time," Pettrey said of Tressel's track record with kickers. "If I can get in this kind of atmosphere, maybe I can have the same kind of career that Mike had. Coach Tressel cares about his kickers and everything like that. He's produced some good kickers and hopefully I'll be one of them."
Pettrey was happy to see Nugent selected so high in the draft.
"I knew he'd go early," Pettrey said. "He's a ridiculous kicker. I got a chance to kick with him a few times up there and he was one of the hardest workers on the team. It makes me feel good about my decision because I'm looking to get drafted one day and Ohio State has proven they develop good kickers."
Pettrey plans on making the most of his opportunity at OSU. He's proven that even a kid from Kentucky can be a Buckeye at heart.
"I feel really good about the situation," Pettrey said. "I feel really good about being up here. It was tough here and there wondering what was going to happen, but I just tried to stay patient. And now everything has kind of came together. Now it's up to me to make the most out of it and that's what I plan on doing."