Ohio State has four kickers on scholarship. To put that in perspective, some schools don't have four running backs on scholarship! In fact, it has been argued in the past that the Buckeyes didn't have four offensive linemen that deserved to be on scholarship…But that was a few years ago. And that was not the point, and –
Back to the kickers. The only thing odder than having four schollie kickers might be the way they got there. To put it in perspective: our punter and our place-kicker are both All- Americans this year. So, you say that the two understudies will learn from them? No, the understudies are the All-Americans!
Andy Groom came in as a walk-on punter only to have a scholarshipped BJ Sander shoved in his face. Coach John Cooper was not one to trifle with scholarships and so he wasn't one to put Groom in front of Sander. In fact, he let the place-kicker at the time (Dan Stultz) punt once BJ caught a case of the shanks. Then in comes Tressel, sees that Groom might be the best punter in the entire species and the rest is history.
Mike Nugent was headed for a similarly inglorious place in OSU lore. Josh Huston was a red-shirting freshman when Nugent was a senior at Centerville High School (and a pretty fair option quarterback, as well…). When he asked me if he had a chance to get a scholarship at OSU, I replied sagely "No, not as long as Cooper is there and you have another kicker with four years' eligibility left." Armed with those upbeat comments, Nugent set off to land himself at another school. Tressel comes in. He calls Nugent in the car on his way up to Pitt to visit and commit. Nugent finishes his trip, calls Tressel back and becomes Coach T's second commitment (missing out by scant hours on being first to Chris Gamble – another pretty good find…).
As a side note, when I asked Mike Nugent who the best punter was that he saw in high school, he said "AJ Hawk. An unbelievable leg." So don't worry about that shank stuff. If BJ doesn't come through, there's always AJ…
Fast forward to the present. We have Andy Groom riding off into the sunset – a horizon that will probably include the NFL for this walk-on punter. We have BJ Sander revving up for his final year. And we have both Mike Nugent and a rehabilitated Josh Huston back for their junior years of eligibility. There is an outside shot that Huston could get a medical red shirt for this year, giving him three more years of eligibility.
Remember that Sander was an absolute stone-cold phenom in high school. He once set the Ohio scholastic distance mark for field goals and averaged in the high 40's for punts. His problem historically has been that 1) He is too slow in getting punts off (ergo, they sometimes go backwards…) and 2) He occasionally hits them with only part of his foot (ergo, they sometimes go sideways). Huston? He won't beat out Nugent as a field goal kicker or PAT guy. After all, Mike just had the best season in the history of Ohio State kickers! They had Huston slotted as a kickoff guy, but Nugent is killing those, too.
It's nice to have back-up everything but Huston is in an unenviable position. He's not in a position to transfer necessarily but some practice regulars in-the-know swear that he's a pretty good punter, too.
Which brings us back to the stuff that ‘ol Dr. Recruitnik is supposed to assess. For place-kickers? We are set until next year's recruiting orgy. For punters? That's a horse of a different color.
Since Coach T has often said, "The punt is the most important play in football," I am assuming he's up-to-speed on which punters are on his squad. Even if we assume that BJ will make us forget about AG, we also have to assume that someone new will be punting the ball come the 2004 season. That new guy might be a true freshman, which might equate to Nugent trying to kick as a true freshman (wasn't pretty…). Therefore, it would seem that you would want to bring a guy in this year, let him red shirt for a year; travel with the team, fine-tune his weaponry, and be ready to bang for real the following season.
I thought they had the perfect guy: Adam Graessle, from nearby Dublin Coffman. When the coaches went to see Adam work out, he hit a 68-yard punt and a 60-yard field goal. This is a kid who wants to play at OSU and is far-and-away the best kicker in Ohio. So what happened? He got offers from a number of schools but not OSU. People advised him to wait (hey – it's a small class and a schollie will possibly be available at the last minute). Word was that Fickell and Conley were split on what to do.
But while everyone else was deciding, Graessle committed to Pitt.
Dr. Recruitnik sez: The Bucks need a punter in this year's class. The only other kid OSU seems to still be in on is David Dyches out of Texas. It scares me that Dyches is a) Looking at 7 other schools and b) Averaged just 38 yards a punt this season. I think if they go back after Graessle, he might re-consider.
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And there you have it. Dr. Recruitnik has now analyzed all the positions; and the position he is about to take is one curled up by the fire for the winter. There's only 20 days left until Commitment Day, so I will leave you with this one thought: Valentine Day might come early this year…
See you next December!
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