Into the Swing

Freshman placekicker Pat McAfee appears to have nailed down the starting job two weeks before the season opener, but he admits that he went through a bit of a struggle himself during fall camp.

"Kicking every day – I'm not used to doing that," McAfee said, unknowingly echoing the sentiments of fellow freshman Scott Kozlowski, who uttered the same sentiments during fall camp. "Kicking for an entire week, my leg was starting to feel dead. It was starting to hurt a little bit, and my consistency was going because my leg was feeling tired."

Watching McAfee kick, one might never suspect that he was suffering. While he did miss a handful of kicks from 40+ yards, the booming Pennsylvania typically bombed his kicks high, long and through – sometimes even above – the uprights. And while head coach Rich Rodriguez occasionally chided him for his distance ("You've got to kick it through before you worry about how far it goes"), the free wheeling McAfee took it all in stride.

"[Coach Rodriguez] does this little hat throw, and he talks behind you. He has all sorts of tricks to try to throw you off," McAfee said with a laugh. "But you can't even listen to that. You have to block it all out and kick the ball. It's pretty much the same kick every single time."

Rodriguez' mind games are intended to prepare the kickers for the pressure they will face once real game action begins. By developing the focus necessary to ignore a hat that flies at the ball right when he's kicking it, McAfee figures that he'll be able to employ the same technique to block out 48,000 screaming fans in the Carrier Dome.

McAfee also has a crutch to fall back on in the form of holder George Shehl, who has been acclaimed as the best holder in the conference. Placekickers can often struggle while adjusting to a new holder, but McAfee and Shehl have formed a working relationship that has yielded impressive results to date.

"George Shehl is perfect every single time," McAfee said with admiration. "You don't even have to get used to him. He's like a holding machine – he's just ridiculous. He's perfect. My high school holder was a little bit shaky, because he just did it as a side thing. George is unreal. It's not hard to get used to him at all."

McAfee obviously benefited from Shehl's performance, as he began nailing kicks from all distances from the moment he set foot on WVU's campus. And now that he is figuring out how to adjust to the heavier college workload, it looks like he is right on track to boost WVU's placekicking game to a higher orbit – not unlike his kicks.

"The day break we had [between the two weeks of fall camp] was perfect," McAfee said. "It really helped me get my legs back under me. After that day off, I started feeling better, and I learned a lot from that. I started limiting myself a little bit [the second week of camp], and I have it all back now. I've changed the way I'm kicking to help myself out."

Most coaches might be a bit hesitant to put a freshman kicker under the gun right off the bat, especially on the road, but Rodriguez has no qualms about doing so.

"The ball makes a different sound when he hits it," WVU's fifth-year head coach said. "When you hear it, you know it's him kicking."

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