Two seasons ago, Ohio State advanced all the way to the national championship game while employing the services of a redshirt freshman as the team's kicker along the way. But after connecting on 8 of 11 field goals that season, Aaron Pettrey found himself behind former professional rugby player Ryan Pretorius on the depth chart the following season.
A poor showing by Pettrey in the fall kick scrimmage as well as a groin injury – in addition to a consistent body of work put forth by Pretorius – all conspired to give the elder Pretorius the starting nod in 2007, and the Buckeyes again advanced to the national championship game.
This spring, OSU has the luxury of returning both kickers for the 2008 season. The challenge now is how to keep each of them happy.
So far, that has apparently not been much of an issue.
"It doesn't hurt," Pettrey said of having two accomplished kickers on staff. "If one of us is struggling or the other one goes down, we've got a guy who can step right in there like nothing's changed and do the same job."
Although Pettrey won the job in 2006, Pretorius saw a few opportunities as well. Then a sophomore, Pretorius hit on one of his two field goal attempts – both of which were more than 50 yards. In addition, the two rotated the kickoff responsibilities somewhat, allowing Pettrey to have 61 kickoffs compared to 19 for Pretorius.
After Pretorius nailed down the starting role last year, Pettrey eventually saw time on the kickoff unit once his torn groin injury healed. He finished with a team-best 67.4 yards-per-kick average on 14 attempts. Pretorius, on the other hand, averaged 64.9 yards on a team-high 32 attempts.
Pettrey had six touchbacks compared to just four for Pretorius.
Keeping those figures in mind, plus the fact that Pretorius went 18 of 23 on his field goal attempts, the decision has been made for him to handle field goals and for Pettrey to handle kickoffs – for now, at least.
Having a little bit of job security is a bonus, Pretorius said.
"I love kicking field goals," he said. "I can do both, but Aaron's got a slightly better kickoff and in terms of field goals I've been really consistent. When you can concentrate on one thing you can save your leg strength and you can work on form and technique the whole time."
Both kickers have different approaches to kicking the ball. Pettrey described himself as a longer kicker with a stronger leg, while Pretorius is the more consistent of the two. In an effort to close the gap, Pettrey said he is borrowing from Pretorious' game.
"I'm back further than he is and I use my hips more," Pettrey said of his style. "He's more down the middle. I'm going to try stealing a little bit from him and closing my steps down so I can be more straight on like him and improve my accuracy."
The fact that Pretorius is currently penciled in as the team's starting field goal kicker has not dulled the sense of competition between the two. Offensive graduate assistant Chad Rogosheske, who oversees the team's kicking units, said each kicker has been more proficient during this spring than at any other point in the last two years.
For both players, the challenge is to achieve a greater level of consistency.
"What we're really emphasizing with them is, ‘Can you do it every time?' " Rogosheske said. "You need to execute at the best of their ability. At their stage and where they're at, it becomes very mental. It's a mental game for them where they're focused on what they're doing."
The obvious goal for both players is to be the primary field goal kicker. However, Pettrey and Pretorius both said they would be willing to accept a situation where the other player is the go-to guy.
"I'd love to do both," Pettrey said. "I'd like to do that as soon as I can. If I get caught behind him, I'm fine with it. I'm happy with being the kickoff guy, but I'd love to do both."
Pettrey has one advantage over Pretorius: he is entering his junior season and will be around for one more year, while the elder Pretorius is in his final season with the Scarlet and Gray.
While the two might be continually pushing each other for the coveted spot as the field goal kicker, Pettrey has been supportive of Pretorius' efforts thus far. When the Buckeyes saw four of his kicks blocked last year, Pettrey was just as upset on the sidelines as anyone else.
It might have been for slightly different reasons, however.
"I didn't like it because in the end that meant I didn't get to kick off," he said with a laugh.