Harper Has Leg Up On Pitt PK Job

After losing three-year starter and near-perfect place-kicker Conor Lee to graduation, the Pitt coaching staff -- as well as Panthers football fans -- are extremely interested in the upcoming camp battle for the position.

Redshirt junior walk-on Dan Hutchins, who likely will take over for Dave Brytus as the Pittsburgh punter, joins redshirt freshman Kevin Harper as the top place-kicking candidates. Harper, who has a strong leg but struggled with accuracy, is on scholarship and was signed in 2008.

Harper believes he'll make that pay off this season.

"We took some time off after spring ball, but we've been increasing our kicking recently to prepare for camp,'' Harper said. "I was a little bit disappointed last season, redshirting, but now that I have four years to show what I can do on field goals and kickoffs I'm feeling a little better about myself.

"And it was great to have Conor ahead of me last year. I really learned a lot from him. He's a great kicker, and he always helped me out. If I would have come in right from high school and be forced to kick, it would have been a lot more difficult. Now, after a season learning from Conor, I'll be ready.''

Pitt was the first school to begin recruiting Harper from Mentor, Ohio High School where he was rated among the top five kickers nationally by Scout.com. That ranking didn't come without merit, as Harper reportedly converted 17 of 23 kicks as a senior with 50 touchbacks. He won two playoff games with field goals and had long kicks for 52, 58 and an Ohio-record 61 yards.

Veteran coach Bob Junko, as well as Pitt's video assistants, work with the Panthers kickers on their steps and breaking down footage to improve their play. However, Hutchins and Harper primarily work out on their own.

"In high school, I just worked on my leg strength and tried to kick the ball as far as possible,'' Harper said. "And I was pretty successful. I made quite a few long field goals, but that's not the way it is in college. Accuracy is way more important, so that's what I've been working on.

"I don't need to improve my distance. So, I watch video of myself kicking and break it down. I've changed my technique a bit, changed my steps up, and I've really worked hard to improve my accuracy. And I think it's worked. The other day, I was 20-for-22 with a 60-yard make. I'll take that average.''

And that should earn him the starting place-kicking job this season.

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