Mike Molina Continues To Hone Craft As Nonconference Replacement For Josh Lambert

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - With Josh Lambert sidelined for the first three games of the season, Mike Molina has inherited the placekicking duties for the nonconference portion of West Virginia's schedule.

Lambert, suspended by the Big 12 for a trio of tilts for violation of conference eligibility rules, remains eligible to practice with the Mountaineers. But Molina is likely the starting placekicker for the Sept. 3 opener against SEC foe Missouri - and of now, he's performing at a steady, solid level.

The junior, out of West Virginia's Hurricane High, connected on all four of his placekickers at the start of Tuesday's practice, including a 45-yarder that sailed cleanly through. Considering Molina has been as impressive for most of WVU's spring sessions, and that he is trying to break in a new starting snapper in either Nick Meadows or R.C. Brunstetter, along with a new holder in Billy Kinney - the likely replacement for the departed Nick O'Toole - bodes well for a special teams unit that saw nearly all of its production depart or be sidelined for the nonconference schedule.

Molina's kicks are showing good elevation and initial punch (see video above) and the 5-8, 180-pounder has been able to drive the ball well between the uprights with plenty of distance to spare from 45-50 yards. In his two seasons, Molina has appeared in just five career games, and he has never attempted a field goal. Molina, in fact, has far more experience with kickoffs (seven) than with field goals (none) or point afters (two, vs. Towson). In fact, entering the Missouri game, Molina will have more tackles (one vs Oklahoma last season) than placekicks attempted.

But trying to replace WVU's leading scorer the past two seasons, at least for three games, hasn't seemed to faze Molina, who simply goes about his craft on a daily basis while continuing to improve. Even watching his sideline demeanor, it's a blend of quiet confidence and a loose, somewhat jovial personality. What Molina might lack in being what head coach Dana Holgorsen calls a flat-line guy - a player like Lambert who simply doesn't respond to either success or adversity - he makes up for in attention to detail and desire to perfect his approach and execution.

That doesn't take away from Lambert's response to his issues. By all measures, the rising senior has remained the steady, prolific placekicker he was over his first three seasons. Lambert has made 68 of 90 career field goal attempts, the former ranking second on the all-time school list behind Paul Woodside's 74, which Lambert figures to break this season. Add in his 54 made extra points, and the Garland, Texas native has racked up an incredible 337 career points, which is third all-time for the Mountaineers and just 48 behind school leader Pat McAfee.

It's nearly a Hall of Fame career already, what with the two game-winners versus Texas Tech and Maryland, and his Lou Groza Award finalist status as a sophomore. But Lambert also rated just seventh in the Big 12 and 61st nationally in field goal percentage last year, and down three games already this season, has much to prove to both finish his legacy and regain the graces of fans after the suspension. Lambert, below, locks in on a couple shorter field goals, showcasing his excellent elevation and drive on the ball.

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