Huskies To Watch: Part 1

STORRS - Chad Christen may be carrying an enormous burden as the person trying to fill the extra large kicking shoes of Dave Teggart, but he certainly doesn't show it.

"This happens in every program," Christen said. "It's my job to do the best that I can. [Teggart] has been a great role model for me. Going into this situation . . . it happened to him. He replaced somebody too. It trickles down. I feel comfortable and I'm totally ready for this season."

Kickers thrive on confidence and struggle without. In that context, Christen's words must be comforting to Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni and the Huskies. That replacement cycle Christen speaks of is a regular part of college athletics.

But this time the Huskies are searching for the successor to the most successful placekicker in the history of the program. Think of it that way, and it's not as simple as Christen makes it sound.

The guy Christen is trying to replace departed as UConn's career leader in field goals (74) extra points (128) and points (349). Teggart kicked a field goal in 22 of his last 25 games and was an All-Big East selection each of his last two seasons.

Teggart now has status among UConn's football legends. And Teggart was automatic. Well, almost. He did miss one extra point attempt in his UConn uniform. It was the kind of career that spoils people. UConn fans will watch games this season expecting the same consistency and reliability.

At Big East Conference media day last month, Pasqualoni listed the biggest question marks heading into preseason camp and said, "Number one is replacing Dave Teggart."

That's pressure, isn't it Chad?

"That aspect is awesome because I got to hold for David [the last two years]," Christen said. "It takes the snapper, holder and kicker to have an outcome on the kick. So, the pressure kicks? I probably was just as nervous, or had the same feelings as David. On the South Florida kick, they iced us. And I was like, ‘Dave, let's do this.' And we did it."

Chad Christen takes over as UConn's kicker (US PRESSWIRE)
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Yes, it was Teggart who kicked the Huskies into the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago with that 52-yard field goal. That's a well-known fact. Who remembers that Christen was the holder? The junior from Etters, Pa., has also handled kickoffs the past two years, making him a key part of UConn's special teams.

But now the spotlight will be on Christen's extra point and field goal attempts, starting with the season opener against UMass on Aug. 30. With highly-touted freshman kicker Bobby Puyol arriving in Storrs this fall, no one was 100 percent certain the job would go to Christen – not until UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said so at UConn media day on Aug. 10.

"Put Bobby in the category of the typical freshman," Pasqualoni said. "He has been inconsistent. Chad is ahead right now."

Christen took aim on the starting spot during spring ball and didn't let up over the summer as he worked out in Storrs. A lot of that time was spent on drills with Teggart pushing him.

Teggart went undrafted in May, signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears but was waived in late July. As he waited for an offer from another team, Teggart spent time in Storrs. Christen used that time as a sponge soaking up Teggart's expertise.

"He has 100 percent faith in me," Christen said of Teggart. "He knows that I pushed him to be a better kicker here. Our competitions in practice were awesome. I think that's what ultimately pushed him to be a better kicker.

"I pushed him for everything he was worth. I feel when we were out here in competition that it was always a battle. We always wanted to one-up each other. It was just a great atmosphere. And he said, ‘Chad, it's your time. You have two more years left. Make the best of it. Anything can happen.' I'm going to take that advice and work as hard as I can."

At Red Lane High School in Etters, Christen was named Class AAA first team All-State and first team All-Mid Penn Conference. He had field goals of 49 and 50 yards, averaged 42.8 yards per punt as a senior, and in three years registered 83 touchbacks on kickoffs. He also started at quarterback as a senior.

Punter Cole Wagner will be Christen's holder this season. Adam Mueller will be the long snapper. That trio, along with Puyol, can be seen hanging together on the practice field every day. Christen said they are a unit, working on timing, rhythm and "feeling comfortable together."

"I'm constantly working on getting better at every aspect of kicking," Christen said. "When we have our field goal period in practice, that's your time to shine [every day]. You only have three minutes, three minutes to prove yourself to the coaches. My main job is to gain the trust of the coaching staff and Coach Pasqualoni."

Christen may have done exactly that during a two-minute drill a couple of weeks ago. The first-unit offense drove down the field and set the stage for a 57-yard field goal by Christen that ended practice.

Pasqualoni's theory of kicking in those live situations creates pressure and competition while simulating game situations every day in practice. The goal is to prepare the kickers for the pressures unique to game day.

"Every day in practice it's our job to simulate game situations," Christen said. "I think if I go out [against UMass] and do what I do in practice, and take it over to the game field, it will be the exact same thing."

Christen remembers how difficult the transition was to his freshman year, in large part because of the pace in practice and games. Puyol is experiencing that in practice now. And Christen said he wants to adhere to tradition by taking the freshman from North Palm Beach, Fla., under his wing.

Bobby Puyol lining up a kick (KEN DAVIS)
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"We don't think about [replacing Teggart]," Puyol said. "We help each other out. We put a lot of expectations on ourselves and I put a lot of expectations on Chad."

In his senior season at William T. Dwyer High School, Puyol made 9 of 12 field goals and converted 50 of 52 extra points. On 78 kickoffs, he had 66 touchbacks. With Florida, Purdue and Duke on his final list of schools to choose from, some thought Puyol might leap to No. 1 right away at UConn.

Even Puyol admits he let himself think along those lines.

"I did in the beginning," he said. "But once I started kicking with Chad I realized I still have stuff to learn. I'm only 18. Chad's 22, so it's a lot different.

"It's a whole different aspect and a whole other game [from high school]. Right now, I'm just learning from Chad, trying to get to the level I want to be at. There's a lot of technical stuff, learning how to relax, and calming myself down. This gives me another year to grow and get stronger."

And time to brace for the pressure. One way or another, it's always there.


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