Sharp On Target For Cowboys

After being handed a 61-34 loss in Stillwater on Saturday night, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth wasn't running short on complimentary things to say about Oklahoma State but there was one Cowboy that stuck out in particular to the Cajun coach — Quinn Sharp.

"They're just a very, very good football team," Hudspeth said. "The best thing I think is going to be their kicker."

And it would be hard to find fault with that statement after the show Sharp put on in the Pokes' season opener.

In addition to being arguably the nation's top kickoff man and punter, the 55,382 in Boone Pickens Stadium got a refresher course on why Sharp was rated the No. 1 kicker in the country when he came out of Mansfield Summit High School in Texas in 2008.

Replacing Lou Groza Award winner Dan Bailey was going to be no easy task but it wasn't the first time Sharp had taken over for a national award winner. Sharp inherited the punting duties in 2009 as a redshirt freshman following the graduation of Ray Guy winning punter Matt Fodge but earning field goal duties was always the end goal.

"That was my dream coming out of high school and I worked so long for it," Sharp said. "I got the experience learning behind Matt Fodge at punter and Dan Bailey at kicker in my first couple years here and it really was a great process and situation for me to learn and adapt. Doing field goals was definitely an honor and I've wanted to do that since I've been here. It was a good experience and I had a lot of fun."

And just as he did in '09, Sharp answered the call in impressive fashion, connecting on 4-of-4 field goal attempts and 7-of-7 on extra point tries in the victory despite some early jitters.

"I was a little nervous at the beginning and I really wanted to get that first one out of the way, get it under my belt and get my confidence built up," he said. "After we got into the game, I felt like I settled down and had fallen into my routine at that time."

And perhaps no special teams player in the nation has a more dynamic routine than the Cowboy junior. He connected from 27, 22, 46 and 23 and his 46-yarder appeared that it would have been good from 60. He didn't punt much, but his two boots went for 100 yards and he kicked 7-of-11 kickoffs for touchbacks for an average of 69.3 yards per kick.

"You've got to go 80 yards every time you get the ball with them, and that's a pretty big disadvantage," Hudspeth said. "The team's that have those type of kickers have a huge advantage."

And out of the three phases of the kicking game, sticking the opponent with that disadvantage is where Sharp puts the majority of his energy.

"The most fatigue comes from the kickoffs because on Saturday we had 11 kickoffs total. I try to use every ounce of energy I have to get a touchback because I want to help the team out and I don't want them to have to always worry about pressing," he said. "If there is a good returner, I want to eliminate him from the game … I try to take as many chances away from the other team as I can."

While coach Gundy was pleased with Sharp in all three phases, he said there is concern for fatigue but it's something they've been working on since fall practice started.

"So far he's doing very well, it's early and I would like to think his experience and maturity would help in those three areas," Gundy said. "Joe DeForest and Rob Glass have come up with a plan to keep him physically rested and in good shape for the long haul and I feel like we have what we need in place for him to go through this thing for three months.

"It's a little different than what we've done in the past. For example, he didn't participate in practice last night. He took the day off. We'll work through that and, as you know, it's not only physically with kickers and punters, it's also mentally. Up to this point he's done very well and I would think he'll remain that way for the rest of the season."

And Sharp seems to have grip on the mental side of it, although it can get a bit hectic in in-game preparation.

"It's almost hard to explain because we could be doing running plays and all of a sudden we throw a deep ball to (Justin) Blackmon. I'm getting ready for a punt and then two seconds later I'm warming up for a field goal because we just threw a 40-yard pass," Sharp said. "You just have to be mentally aware and fully in to the game at all times. I can't take a play off and just got sit on the bench, I have to stay active, ride the bike and kick it into the net a lot."

One week into the college football season, the three-phase approach with Sharp can't be argued. His 19-points put him fourth nationally in scoring, his four made field goals is tied for first, as are his seven touchbacks. His 50-yard punting average would rank among the national leaders had he punted enough to qualify for the stat (3.6 attempts required) and he even threw in a touchdown saving tackle for good measure.

His impact on this team is far from overlooked by his teammates and they recognize the skill set he brings to the table on game days.

"It's awesome; every time we go out for special teams we know he has the capability to change the whole complexion of the game," sophomore corner Devin Hedgepeth said. "It's amazing to have a weapon like that. It's a blessing, really. He kicks the ball like I've never seen anyone do it before. We kind of expected it from him based on what we saw in camp and I think we all expect him to continue this. Quinn is a special player."

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