West Virginia Placekicker Mike Molina Changes Mental, Physical Approach After Securing Top Spot For Nonconference Play

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Mike Molina was tasked with replacing Josh Lambert during the 2106 WVU football nonconference slate, there was a bit of trepidation.

Lambert, after all, is approaching West Virginia's all-time scoring record, needing just 47 points to vault him from his current position in third place into a first-place tie with all-time leader Pat McAfee at 389 points. He's made clutch, timely kicks and been consistently good and quite often near great. Just last game he scored 13 points in the Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State, including the first nine for the Mountaineers after the offense bogged down in the scoring zone. So when Molina found out the job, essentially by default, was falling to him, it changed his very approach to his former practice and health habits.

"I have a different mindset going into practice," he said. "Taking it a bit more serious than usual. Outside of practice I just have to keep my body right. Staying loose. I stretch a lot more, get in cold tubs so you are not more tight in one muscle than you are another. We use the same muscles everyday so those can tighten up. You have to manage that and stretch and work that out before practice is over. The next day you come in and get loose before practice."

And do it again, and again, and again. The life of a kicker is a series of same-step repetitions that create the muscle strength and memory needed. It can be monotonous, tedious and downright boring - until he's called upon in the biggest of situations, as Lambert was in game-winning field goals versus Maryland and Texas Tech. Thus far, the junior from Hurricane, W.Va., has by all accounts performed well. He's connected on 11-of-12 tries when media has been able to watch, including 4-for-4 performances with a pair of 45-yarders during the early portions of practice. Molina also hit tries of 42, 22 and 21 yards before missing a 30-yarder in the Aug. 13 scrimmage, the last open practice session for the Mountaineers.

"I feel like I have been pretty good," he said. "This is the third team practice (scrimmage) we have had and I feel real comfortable back there. I've taken a lot of team reps and I feel good. Previous years I have always just been behind Josh and I really didn't have to worry about team reps or stuff like that. That's different now."

Head coach Dana Holgorsen said Molina's performance over the first three games - Lambert is eligible to return from suspension for the Oct. 1 Big 12 opener versus Kansas State - would dictate who held the starting job going into what expects to be a key game against the Wildcats, who are 4-0 against WVU in league play.

"If Mike goes out and is knocking it through the uprights a bunch in the first three games, it would be silly to uproot that," Holgorsen said. "But we've never seen Mike in live situations. Josh has a history of being able to knock big kicks through as the clock is winding down."

As such, West Virginia is trying to place as much pressure on Molina as possible in practice, though there's no way to simulate live kicks in front of 60,000, as Molina will be asked to do against Missouri in just a dozen days.

"We did it a couple practices ago where we had the whole team yelling stuff behind me," Molina said. "We had coaches yelling behind me and trying to get in my head. One of the coaches said 'That's a looooong kick.' I just thought it was funny."

Special teams coach Mark Scott noted that Molina hit roughly 80 percent of his kicks during the spring portion of practice, a number that he hopes will steadily increase pending obvious tangibles like distance and wind. Scott said he was pleased with the timing and development of the relationship between Molina, holder Billy Kinney and snapper Nick Meadows, who of now has edged R.C. Brunstetter for the starting nod there. Meadows snapped against Liberty last season, replacing starter John DePalma after the current Philadelphia Eagle was scratched with back issues.

Now, the walk-on from Williamstown, W.Va., appears to have started to lock down the long snapping spot as he, Molina and Kinney try and hone the craft towards the end of camp.

"I was pretty nervous that game I got thrown into at the last second last year," Meadows said. "Then I kind of figured some stuff out and went into it with a different mindset. That first time it was so nervous for me because I had such big shoes to fill. John DePalma, he's snapping for the Eagles now. I'm very confident now in my snapping. (It) helped a lot having Billy (practicing on the second team) with me for the last two years. Now we are used to each other and both comfortable. The important things the snapper and holder have to do is really just getting used to seeing each other down there. Seeing a different person back there will mess with you a little bit."

Meadows, below, also explains how the times can vary from coach to coach, so much so that it's difficult to rely on those when the inevitable coaching change arises. Hear more from the expected starter below, including his approach and philosophy on covering punts after the snap, and how his high school linebacker experience helps in that endeavor. 

Here's a look at Molina, Meadows and Kinney in action on a series of field goals during the initial portions of West Virginia's practice. The staff moves Molina around to different hash marks and creates an uptempo environment for additional stress. The last kick, a 45-yarder attempt, easily sails through, capping a 4-for-4 showing (first kick not shown on video).

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