Recruiting: Can the Commodores land a kicker?

As of this moment, a world-class kicker/punter appears to be the only thing missing from Vanderbilt's 2004 recruiting class, which mushroomed this week to 19 commitments. A number of likely candidates are on the table, including a fascinating prospect who will visit officially this weekend. But whether the Commodores will offer a kicker, and whether one will accept, are questions that await to be answered. Charles Minnix sizes up the possibilities.

Last March, Alpharetta (Ga.) Chattahoochee High School soccer player Mark Buchholz thought he was all settled with his college plans. As a junior, the much-sought-after prep star made a commitment to play soccer at Clemson University, and was intending to sign on the dotted line next Wednesday.

Now, all of a sudden, he's re-thinking everything. Buchholz, who doubled as a devastating kicker/punter for Chattahoochee's football program the past two seasons, has been invited to make an official visit to Vanderbilt this weekend. He's not been offered a scholarship, but if he is, he could become the Commodores' final commitment in a recruiting class that could go as high as 20.

"I'm headed up to Nashville this weekend," Buchholz said. "I'll go up there Saturday morning and get back Sunday night."

It could be a tough sell for Vanderbilt, however. Buchholz has the bird-in-the-hand of a full ride at Clemson, and even if Vandy matches it with a football offer, Buchholz might opt to stick with the Tigers and soccer.

"Right now," Buchholz says, all things being equal, "I'd probably stick with Clemson, just because I already have that offer on the table. Right now, that's what I'm a little more comfortable with."

As of this moment, a world-class kicker/punter appears to be the only thing missing from Vanderbilt's recruiting class, which mushroomed this week to 19 commitments. Since Vandy's number of open slots under the 85-scholarship NCAA limits is thought to be 18, it's possible that a couple of members of the 2004 class will be asked to "grayshirt" (i.e., begin school in January of 2005).

Whether or not to add a kicker to this class is a question the Commodore coaching staff appears to have wrestled with all along. Last fall, head coach Bobby Johnson said that the needs were too great in other areas to consider doing so. But last week on a Nashville radio interview, Johnson indicated Vandy might offer a kicker... IF it found the right candidate, and IF it could be worked out with scholarship limitations.

It's a difficult dilemma for Johnson. Many schools don't use scholarships for their kickers, and Vanderbilt already has a punter (redshirt freshman Kyle Keown) and a placekicker (sophomore Patrick Johnson) on scholarship for next season. The ideal candidate for a third kicker appears to be someone who could handle both punting and placekicking.

Buchholz certainly appears to have the credentials. He averaged 45 yards per punt for Chattahoochee High, consistently launched his kickoffs out of the end zone, and connected consistently on field goals from 40 yards and out. "I only attempted two field goals from beyond 50 yards," Buchholz said. "I barely came up short on a 54-yarder, and a 57-yarder bounced off the upright.

"My love for soccer goes back to when I was little," he added. "Football has just come on recently. The reason I'm decent at football is because of my soccer."

Buchholz' season earned him first-team All-State honors as a punter in Class 5A in Georgia. A number of major schools like Auburn, Georgia and Georgia Tech have shown interest in Buchholz, but so far no schools have offered. Clemson has said he can try out for football if he wishes.

Will Vandy pull the trigger this weekend with an offer? And would Buchholz accept? Right now neither side is showing its cards.

"[Vanderbilt] knows if they don't offer me, they won't get me, because I have that offer [Clemson soccer] on the table," he said. "They seem to be pretty intent on offering me."

If things don't work out with Buchholz, the Commodores will likely fall back on kicker Daniel Lee, who made a whirlwind official visit last weekend. Lee told TheInsiders he would have to consider Vanderbilt strongly if they made an offer... but would he accept it so late in the game? Lee also indicated he would like to have his plans solidified before signing day.

The Commodores will also likely try to convince a placekicker or two to walk on and compete for the job. The most likely possibilities there are Greg Taussig from Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Fla., and Kittrell Smith of Lafayette-Macon County, Tenn.

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