West Virginia Placekicker Balances Progression Versus Additional Workload

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Mike Molina's story of becoming West Virginia's starting placekicker follows the oft-used Charles Swindoll quote.

"Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it."

Thus it has been for Molina, who came to West Virginia in four years ago as a walk-on out of Hurricane (W.Va.) High. The redshirt junior didn't make a game appearance until last season, when he kicked off just eight times. And with experienced veteran Josh Lambert returning, more of the same was expected this year. But Molina continued to hone his craft, incrementally improving until he had locked down the reserve kicking spot and put himself in a position to contribute whenever required.

That need arose in the offseason, when Lambert was suspended for three games by the Big 12 for violation of eligibility rules. It could have been a situation where Molina was simply an adequate fill-in, an after-thought until Lambert would return for the conference opener against Kansas State. But as he had so often, Molina returned to the preparation and fortitude that has bridged his entire career, and connected on all four field goals in the season opener versus Missouri. In all, Molina hit 5-of-6 field goals in Lambert's absence, then didn't kick against BYU and K-State. Even after Lambert suffered an early miss, Molina remained on the shelf.

He could have internally packed it in, but instead remained steady and ready, and assumed the starting role again when Lambert chose to leave the program following the conference opener. Reinserted at a starting position he earned, Molina performed admirably in the win over Texas Tech, hitting 2-of-3 field goals, including a career-long 34-yarder. That make was loomed especially large psychologically, as Molina hooked his initial attempt from 43 yards. As always, the state native's mindset was one of channeling the situation, the 10 percent, into a positive with his reaction.

"After the miss, I just put it behind me," Molina said. "You are only as good as your next kick. That's the mindset I have had forever. I put that behind me and said it was all right, didn't matter what happened in the past. Can't change it, so go out there and do what you usually do every day. I know what I did on that one kick and I corrected it in the net two kicks later. I was a little upset that it happened, but it was in the past. Going up to the next kick, I thought there was no stress and I really didn't feel any stress. I knew to do what I do every day and it was going to go in."

Molina hit from 34 and 22 yards, and will; play a key role against a TCU team which has beaten West Virginia twice at Mountaineer Field by a combined two points. Every kick looms large, as does field position on kickoffs, another area in which Molina has performed well. Molina hit one out of bounds against the Red Raiders, while also recording five touchbacks in nine kickoffs. 

"I had one that went out of bounds. That's the one I focus on," he said. "I gotta correct that."

Through all his productive approach and the level-headed, constructive reactions, one aspect remains concerning about Molina's situation, and that's depth. Of now, Molina will handle the field goals and kickoffs for West Virginia, which now plays eight consecutive games to finish the regular season after a pair of early off weeks. That could mean leg fatigue for a player who has never shouldered that load in previous seasons. It's caused an adjustment for Molina, who realized after Lambert's departure that he would have to closely monitor his reps to avoid exhaustion.

"Since camp I have been kicking the same amount, but now that we are about to go to an eight-game stretch there will be times when I am going to have to back down and not warm-up as much in kicking as many balls as I do," Molina said. "During practice I will have to back down in the later weeks of the season. Right now we are taking it back a little bit and focusing on getting better. I'm smart about (monitoring his health) at times, but at others I'm like 'I'll be ok' and it ends up being a problem later on. I go to the training room anytime I feel something just so it doesn't become a big problem."

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