Not Totally Specialized Teams

With the loss of now cult-like hero Phil Brady to graduation, West Virginia is mixing in steady newcomers and two No. 1 rated players to try and solidify the entire kicking game by fall.

The Mountaineers, minus the service of Brady – who essentially clinched the Sugar Bowl with his run off a fake on fourth down late in the game – have turned to Scott Kozlowski, last year's backup, and field goal kicker Pat McAfee in the punting game. The two vets are competing against walk-ons Trevor Matthews and William "Kelly" Crockett.

If it seems as though Kozlowski, the No. 1 rated prep punter in the nation in the class of 2005, should easily slide into Brady's spot, consider that WVU's styles dictate that players must be a two-step punter and that they get the ball away faster than almost all other teams that use a more traditional set than the Mountaineers' myriad of alignments and looks. Add in the rugby punt and the essential ability to kick it into the sidelines or away from return men, and West Virginia might be the Ivy league equivalent of the college punting world – ripe with talent that still has much to learn.

"I am trying to get the hang of all that," said Mathews, who kicked at Lakeview High in Cortland, Ohio. "It is different, and I have never done most of that before. I knew coming in it wasn't just go out and kick, but to make sure you get an angle, kick to the left, kick to the right or rugby."

The sophomore, an engineering major, chose WVU because of its proficiency in that area. His brother, Brendan, a computer engineering major, introduced Trevor to the University's program while his mother, LuAnn, spoke with a gentlemen she knew that was familiar with West Virginia's punt schemes and setups.

"My brother goes here, so I learned a lot about the engineering major I wanted to go into," Mathews said. "My high school coach (Tom Pavlansky) told me I might be able to punt, so I came here, tried out in the fall and didn't make it. I tried out again in January and I made it and it's going pretty good.

"It is tough, the workouts are tough," said Mathews, whose father, Zane, has authored two Christian books. "In high school I had a three-step punt. I had to learn how to two-step. It is a lot different to change your steps up and try to punt. Plus, you have to get it off in a certain time limit, where in high school it was all right just to get it off whenever you could. It is a lot quicker and a lot to handle all at once."

The problems are similar to the ones Kozlowski faced last season. Most thought the prep phenom would bump Brady out of his starting spot. But the myriad of kicking styles took time to develop, and Kozlowski is just now getting the hang of the entire scheme. He has also been slightly hindered by taking on the field goal kicking, while McAfee has also punted, leaving one to believe WVU is trying to develop increased depth at the spots.

"It is not really a big deal considering my senior year I did everything," Kozlowski said. "I kicked off, field goals, onsides, punt. But it is hard because when I came here, my job was just punting. Now since we don't have any twos, it is just me and Pat and those other two backup punters – they don't know how to kick field goals – so I am just trying to get back in the rhythm of what I did my senior year and backup Pat the best I can so I can contribute more to the team.

"It is not that tough. The only difficult part for me is getting used to kicking off a tee. When I was in high school I used a half-inch tee. Now that we can't use tees, I am kicking off the ground. I am surprised I am even making most of them. I am trying to get adjusted to my holder, too."

That's Travis McClintic, the wide receiver from Lewisburg, W.Va. The senior backed-up a flawless George Shehl last season. Reserve quarterback Markell Harrison is the second team holder.

"It's tough to follow a guy that has been perfect his entire career," McClintic said. "As far as being the holder, I could care less if anybody in the stadium knows who is holding the ball. Your main goal is to be perfect so nobody knows your name."

"I have been pleased with the snaps and I think Travis McClintic has done a good job holding," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But we are not really going live. We go semi-live. But maybe the next scrimmage (on Saturday) we will go all-out live and see how they kick then."

There seems to be a slight disagreement over the success rate of kickers. Kozlowski seemed pleased with his punting, noting that his "rolls are going great. I went four-for-four today right in the area they wanted it. That's the first time I think Coach Rod gave me a high-five right there. He likes to see me do well under pressure. He wants to see if I can handle it."

Never one to give praise freely, Rodriguez downplayed the outing, perhaps just to keep Kozlowski motivated.

"Did it, the punting game?" Rodriguez said with a smile when told of Kozlowski said the outing went well. "Yeah, he will probably tell you that every time. Wait until we get a live rush and see how he does. Scott has punted the ball pretty well this spring. Pat missed a couple field goals, but he has a strong leg. He just has to, sometimes, be more disciplined in keeping his head down and following through the kick."

McAfee missed right last year due to a bad alignment he called "cockeyed." Now, he noted his plant foot was about three to five inches further back from the ball than where it should have been, causing a longer motion and pushing the right-footer's kicks left. It seems to have been corrected by, of all people, his father, Tim, who noted the positioning of the plant foot after McAfee practiced an additional 15 minutes after badly missed a 49-yarder in 30-plus mile-per-hour winds in Saturday's scrimmage.

"It was rough because it was swirling and I didn't really know what it was doing," McAfee said. "That 49-yarder I just hooked. It was rough. I take a lot of pride in what I do, so I get really mad when I mess things up like that. It will be corrected. I will be ready for practice. My old man was down here giving me heck. But I think T-Mac (McClintic) is stepping in nicely. He is doing a good job and Markell is doing good as a backup. Tim Lindsey is doing great, as always. So if you see anything wrong, it would be me. It's on me."

That's the typical response from McAfee, who might put more pressure on himself than any other WVU player.

"I feel bad for Pat sometimes, too, because he gets real down on himself," Kozlowski said. "That 49-yarder that went down in the wind, he just gets down real fast about that. So I am just trying to be the best I can be for him and the team."

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