Swinging Freely

Placekicking was one of the terrible failures for Stanford last season. Derek Belch did not win the job in 2006, due in large part to a disastrous spring, so he watched with much anguish during the fall. Now a fifth-year senior, Belch has come alive with a sensational spring. On Thursday, he kicked a 53-yard field goal, his longest attempt and make this month. Afterward he talked about his spring.

Derek, it looks like the kicking you showed earlier this spring has continued all the way through.  This is no fluke.  You didn't look like this at all last spring and August.  What do you think has been the difference this spring for you?

"I would say the confidence that the coaching staff has shown in me.  You know how it's been.  It's been a rough four years.  I've known that I've had the ability all along, and they gave me a chance this spring and showed their faith.  They've kept the snaps and holds consistent and kept the pressure on me.  Obviously I missed that one at the end [of today's practice], but for the most part, it's been pretty good.  And my own confidence, too."

Did you know to start this spring that you had this confidence all put together, or did some early success in these practices help to build your confidence to where it is now?

"I have been kicking well since camp last year.  Unfortunately it didn't work out for me to do all the fields and the kickoffs.  I just took the attitude of don't put any pressure on myself and carry over what I did in the fall.  Historically, spring ball has been a little rough for me.  It hasn't been as good as I would like it to be.  But a lot of that has also been due to some inconsistencies with the operation and figuring out who is snapping, who is holding.  The fact is that it's been consistent this year.  Bobby [Dockter] has been doing a great job.  Jay [Ottovegio] has been doing a great job.  Even Brent [Newhouse] and Bo [McNally] when they have had to snap and hold for the two's have been doing an outstanding job, too.  That makes a big difference.  That makes a huge difference.  Apart from that, it's starting out from day one with the chance to be the starter, making that first kick and then running with it has just been awesome."

Can you break down any technical or mechanical things that you are doing differently or that the film shows you are doing more consistently?

"Not really.  I didn't really change much in the off-season because I was kicking really well finishing last year and didn't want to mess with it too much.  I kind of became a little more upright with my stance.  Not many people notice that, but it's a small change that I made.  It's helped.  This summer I need to work on my steps from the right side because they're inconsistent right now..."

You've really only missed from the right hash marks this spring, right?

"Actually, any time I have missed this spring - which hasn't been that often - it's been from the right side.  I've missed one kick from the middle and zero from the left.  No joke.  It's not because I'm hitting them badly.  It's because I'm aligning incorrectly.  If you notice, the ones that I miss, they're still high and good ball flight, but they barely miss.  I'll get that fixed."

I don't think there has been a kick this spring that has come up short yet.  Is this also the strongest that you've been?  Are you swinging with more power than before?

"It's been about the same.  Actually, it's been windy, which is sometimes good and sometimes hurtful.  That's one thing that I've actually been appreciative of - for when we do get those conditions.  It hasn't shown up in team [periods] as much because we've been kicking here [points to one field], it's more across.  Going that way, it's more downwind.  On my own, I've been working into the wind more, so that when we get that next season, the team is going to benefit.  I'm going to make them into the wind because I've been working on that myself."

After last season, it was doubtful whether you would come back for a fifth year.  What was your thought process during the winter and your talks with the new coaching staff?  You're still not on scholarship, and being here in the fall is another financial burden.

"I'm doing graduate work this fall, so that's the same it will cost as being an undergrad for the year.  Hopefully I can come through and keep the starting job and get on scholarship.  That would be awesome, assuming it's available.  In the off-season, I wanted to come back because I have unfinished business here.  I came in behind Michael Sgroi.  He and I were about the same and he had more experience than me, so he was the starter.  I had to deal with that.  Last year didn't go quite as well as I had planned, and I knew that with a new staff it was a fresh start.  I walked into Coach [Jim] Harbaugh's office the first day back from winter break and sat down with him.  I told him, 'Listen.  I'm your guy, and I just want a shot.'  Obviously he has given me a shot, so hopefully I stay his guy."

What is your relationship with D.J. Durkin?  I know that the special teams coordinator does not necessarily work hand-in-hand with the kicking operation, but how has he been helpful?

"Yeah, you're right.  We don't work with him one-on-one.  As far as technique is concerned, he's very hands-off.  Matt Weiss has been working with us.  It's a little more hands-off than last year.  We've been doing more of our own thing, with him overseeing it.  Coach Durkin reminds us a lot of Coach [Tom] Quinn.  He brings us a lot of fire.  Sometimes, like after I just missed this last one, he jumped me a little bit.  But it's tough love.  We all love him.  Hopefully it shows with our special teams play on the field because he is doing really well for us.  It showed last year, when we were a little weak in some areas on special teams and maybe could have made a difference in a couple different games.  Hopefully we get that tightened up."

What have you charted as far as the distances you have kicked and your accuracy at 40-plus yards?

Belch readies for a FG with Jim Harbaugh close behind

"That last one in team period was 54 or 53 [yards].  That's the furthest we have even tried, and I think I made it by a few yards.  Honestly because we kick over there into the wind, we don't have any reason to even try anything over 45 because it will just get your confidence down.  If you're kicking and it feels good but then the ball goes off, you can't do anything half the time.  We are charting actually.  They have a spreadsheet that has been made.  For the spring, I'm 85 percent for everything together, which I would say is pretty good.  That's extra points and field goals."

"I think I have missed one PAT all spring in that scrimmage two weeks ago.  In the scrimmages, I have missed only one field goal, which is great.  Those are games for me.  That's where I show.  Coach Durkin was just telling me, 'You have to make those at the end [of practice],' and obviously I do.  But Saturday is when they count because those are the closest things I have been to a game other than the one attempt at Arizona State last year.  That's where I get a chance to prove myself, and I think I'm five out of six, including that 50-yarder last week.  Other than that, it's just the right side.  I have to work on that, and it shows up in the stat sheets.  We'll get it fixed."

I know you have done less of this compared to the field goals and PATs, but the NCAA has made kickoffs tougher again this year.  They took an inch off the tee last year, and now they want to make it even harder moving it five yards back to the 30.  Can you tell us as a kicker, how tough is that?

"Well, last year we did a lot of directional kicking.  I think a lot of people were wondering why I didn't have a lot of touchbacks when I have as strong a leg as I do on field goals.  To be honest, I need to improve my kickoff distance relative to how strong my leg is for field goals.  It can get a lot better.  That said, we were directional kicking every single time last year, with the exception of a couple games where we had the wind at our back.  Coach [Jeff] Hammerschmidt said, 'Give me a touchback.  I don't care where it goes.'  We were trying to put the ball on the numbers every single time.  For the most part, it was every single time.  Or we did that little 'sky kick' to the right where we would line up on the left and go to the right."

"The stats were deceiving.  I think I was something like 25 or 30 percent touchbacks.  If you took away the sky kicks, that went up to like 40.  Also you can take away some of the directional stuff that we did because it's really hard when you're trying to place it in one spot.  You don't want to just let it rip because if you miss it, you're in trouble.  Luckily, I didn't hit one line drive or one out of bounds all year last year.  They were all pretty much in the right spot.  Coach Durkin originally before they changed the rule wanted me: 'Okay, just blast it.  We'll cover it.'  For now, we're kicking deep right.  He says, 'Put it to the right of the hash.  I don't care where it goes.'  As we get into the season, I think I'll show him that I can place it in certain spots.  That will make a big difference."

"Also there's hangtime.  I think against the people we played, I didn't notice too many guys other than the kid from Arizona who was getting them up there over four [seconds].  I think I had several over four each game - however many kickoffs we had, which was few [laughs].  In the games where we had four kickoffs, maybe two or three of them were over four seconds.  If you get four seconds of hangtime off that one-inch tee, that's pretty good.  Hopefully I can do the same this year."

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