Mentor praises Medley

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He made 72 percent of his field-goal tries as Tennessee's placement specialist from 2003-06, including a game-winning 50-yarder with six seconds left to beat Florida 30-28 in 2004, so James Wilhoit isn't easily impressed by kickers.

Still, the ex-Vol watched in amazement nearly four years ago as a skinny ninth-grader from Marshall County High in Lewisburg showed off his leg.

"I knew right away that he was going to be an incredible kicker," Wilhoit recalls. "That first day as a freshman he was hitting 50-yard field goals. I went to his dad (Richard Medley) and told him his son was very special and had a chance to get a scholarship down the line."

That day is almost here. Aaron Medley, rated America's No. 1 kicking prospect by Kohl's Professional Camps, will sign scholarship papers with Tennessee in February. His mentor the past four seasons believes the Vols have found themselves a keeper.

"Tennessee is very lucky to have him," Wilhoit said. "Since I left I don't think we've been at the level in kicking we were when Dustin (Colquitt) and I were there. I think Aaron's going to be a really great addition to Tennessee's special teams."

Certainly, Medley has an impressive resume. He nailed a 50-yard field goal in a game and has hit 60-yarders in practice. Moreover, he put 46 of 52 kickoffs into or through the end zone as a high school senior last fall.

"I remember he was kicking off to the 2- or 3-yard line as a freshman and wasn't sure he'd ever be able to get it into the end zone," Wilhoit recalled with a chuckle. "By the end of the year he was blasting it through the back of the end zone."

Medley has grown a lot since the start of his freshman year – as a person, as well as a football player.

"When I first met him he was a little stubborn and cocky," Wilhoit recalled. "He didn't say a single word to me the first day we worked together. He has since opened up. He listens and he's very coachable. I've really gotten to know him very well. He has a very good head on his shoulders and is very competitive. He doesn't shy away from a challenge."

That's good because kicking field goals in front of a packed house at Neyland Stadium is not for the faint of heart.

"I redshirted a year but I was still really nervous my first few games kicking under the lights in front of 100,000 people," Wilhoit recalled. "Aaron's going to have to go through some of those things. Ideally, you'd like for your kicker to redshirt because he'll probably have some growing pains. Not always, though. A freshman kicker at Michigan State (Michael Geiger) went 14 of 15 on field goals last fall."

Of course, Geiger's dream season was the exception, not the rule.

"I just hope Tennessee fans are realistic with their expectations," Wilhoit said, "because Aaron is very talented and going to be a fantastic kicker."

Because high schoolers kick off a block that gives them instant elevation, many of them struggle to adjust when they must kick off the turf in college. Medley already made that adjustment.

"He's very smooth and comfortable kicking off the ground," Wilhoit said. "Most high school kids have to make a transition to kicking off the ground in college but we started doing it his junior year (of high school) and he was very comfortable with it. I told him to go ahead and use a block in games just because it helps the holders so they don't miss the spot sometimes."

Although his elevation and accuracy are excellent, Medley's greatest asset is his amazing leg strength.

"One thing that sets him apart is length," Wilhoit said. "He can kick 70 yards consistently on kickoffs, and there are probably only eight to 10 other guys in the country who can do that."

Probably the most impressive thing about Aaron Medley, however, is the fact he is still maturing physically. He packs just 170 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame.

"He's rail thin, so he'll gain another 20 or 30 pounds as he gets into this (college conditioning) process," Wilhoit said. "By the time he's 200 pounds I'll be excited to see just how far he can kick the ball."

Of course, the ultimate measure of a kicker is not how far he kicks it but how he kicks it under pressure.

"He performed well at all of the kicking camps," Wilhoit said, "so he can do it under pressure…. It'll be up to him whether he performs great right away or needs a few games to get used to the (college-level) pressure."

With four-year starter Michael Palardy out of eligibility, Medley is a virtual lock to handle Tennessee's kickoffs and placements in 2014. He also may succeed Palardy as the No. 1 punter. Kohl's gave Medley five stars and a No. 12 national ranking in that area, although he averaged just 37.2 yards as a high school senior.

"I think he's extremely talented as a punter but a little more raw," Wilhoit said. "I focused more on kicking than punting with him. With his build, I think he has the ability to be Tennessee's punter. Ideally, I'd like to see him focus on kicking but if they don't have anyone else I know he's capable of doing it."

Although Tennessee is his alma mater, Wilhoit felt a few minor misgivings when the Vols offered Medley a scholarship.

"I had mixed emotions at first," the ex-Vol said. "I train kickers across the state, and obviously, there can only be one kicker that can go to Tennessee. I make a point not to push any kicker to Tennessee. Still, with a guy like Aaron it's hard to not say, ‘Wow! Tennessee is probably the best choice for you.'

"It worked out well for Tennessee and for him."


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