Justin Sparks

In 2005, rookie Placekicker Justin Sparks as kind of streaky in his first swing at collegiate football. He'd hit several kicks in a row perfectly, then he'd hit two or three akin to golf shanks. He's been working on his consistency this summer. Read about it inside.

Redshirt freshman Placekicker Justin Sparks said it was hard to explain his kicking in 2005, his rookie season with Ole Miss.

"It was kind of like being a golfer who develops an occasional shank. I would be cruising along, hitting the ball perfectly and then I'd have a really bad miss," said Sparks, a Briarcrest (Memphis, TN) product. "I'd miss by a long way. I've never had that problem before."

So while other players were working on strength, speed, conditioning, flexibility, learning the systems or whatever during the offseason and summer, Justin has been busy doing one thing - trying to gain some consistency.

"I've been working on hitting the ball the same every time, getting in a consistent groove," he noted. "Even if I miss the kick, that's OK if it's just slightly off - I can adjust from that for now, but those bad misses, they have to go."

Hitting the ball the same way every time seems like an easy enough thing to do, but again the analogy goes back to golf.

"As a kicker, you have to develop a groove with your swing. When you are in a groove, you can do no wrong, but when your swing gets off a little, bad things will happen. I've been trying to get my groove back," Sparks explained.

What's involved in a placekicker finding his groove? Mostly little things.

"I've dissected my stance, where I line up, how I approach the ball, my timing, my sight line - everything," Justin added. "I've made some minor adjustments, but nothing real big. When you get out of your rhythm in kicking, it's usually not something major. It's usually a small adjustment."

Justin could not nail down anything specifically that has helped him get his groove back, but he feels he's made vast improvements in his consistency since last year.

"I can see a difference in what I'm doing this summer. I have taken a lot of the bad misses out of my game. One will still surface every once in a while, but I've gone days with no bad misses," he continued. "I just need to keep working until those are completely eliminated.

"Kickers are always going to miss a field goal every now and then, even the best do, but if you are hitting every ball solidly and you understand what causes your bad misses, you can adjust and be successful," Sparks stated.

Sparks said it was a strange deal to drill five in a row last year in practice and then hit a ball that basically cleared out people on the sidelines. He hopes that's in the past, and believes it is.

"There's a mental aspect in kicking well too," Justin said. "You have to be relaxed and confident and I'm feeling more comfortable now than I was a year ago. I may have tensed up too much at times last year with the newness of college football, but now I feel confident."

Sparks is happy with his distance, his times of getting kicks off and his approach this year.

"My range is good enough, I'm kicking the ball quickly and I feel my mental approach is stronger this time around," he added.

There's also the matter of the kickers/punters being more on the same page this year than last season.

"We have united and are helping each other. We decided we were going to all work together. We critique each other and watch each other on every kick," Sparks said. "There's a lot of pressure involved in field goal kicking and in the kicking game overall because you get one shot and it's important to be successful.

"We felt if we helped each other and worked with each other, we could form a bond and a better barrier against the pressure as a group. It makes sense for us to get each other's backs. Last year, we were close, but not as unified. We also evaluate each other without anyone getting touchy about the constructive criticism. It's not that much different from last year, but we just feel closer and more together this time around. If all of us feel better aobut ourselves, the one who wins the job will be that much better."

Senior Will Moseley came out of spring as the number one PK and kickoff man, but that status is not etched in stone, Moseley said in an earlier interview. Sparks agrees.

"We're all trying to get the number one spot and we're all fine with the competition. As I said, we are all helping each other," Justin noted. "We're all going to get after it and the best man will win. And whoever that is will have the support of the rest of the kickers."

Sparks said he's impressed with freshman PK Joshua Shene.

"Josh is still adjusting to the turf some, but he's got good ability," Sparks noted. "I haven't seen him kick off yet, but Coach (Chris) Rippon told us he has a strong leg for kicking off, like Will."

Last year, Sparks experimented some with punting, but he's scaled back on that this time around.

"I'm 95% placements and 5% punting, just for insurance for (P) Rob (Park). I want to do the placements here and that's what I'm best at. I just have to prove my consistency and keep working on it," he ended.

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