Tackling Puts Kicker In Spotlight

West Virginia placekicker Pat McAfee is used to the spotlight. Whether it's a new hairstyle or a zany pronouncement that reveals his distinctive approach to life, the sophomore has been a magnet for the media ever since he came to WVU. However, the reason for his latest turn with the media isn't one that he is necessarily happy with.

After making touchdown saving tackles in consecutive weeks against Mississippi State and Syracuse, McAfee said he isn't looking forward to having the opportunity again.

"No, not at all," he said forcefully. "The thing about the tackles is that they shouldn't happen. I should kick the ball out of the end zone, or someone else should make the tackle. When they are starting at the 40- or 50-yard line, it's not a good thing. But it was exciting to hit someone. I actually had to put air in my helmet this week. Last week I had no air in my helmet and it was just like a hat that I had on. So I was a little bit better prepared."

McAfee's stream of consciousness approach to interviews is a refreshing one, and gives interviewers plenty of material to work with. His play on Rich Rodriguez' "put a little more air in your helmet" motivational speech is just one of the many wry comments to come out of his mouth – and just about all of them are funny.

For example, many players, when correcting an error, would simply point it out. But McAfee turns it into a bit of a routine. In discounting a report that his tackling prowess stemmed from defensive play in high school, he launches into something of a monologue. "Tony [Caridi] said that I had played linebacker in high school, but I didn't. I had a little chat with him about that," the delightfully free-spirited place kicker said. "It was soccer in high school for me. I didn't play defense at all. In fact, I didn't practice [football] at all. I didn't even show up at practice. So no linebacker for me. But my high school team, Plum, wasn't too effective in the punt game, so I usually had about three tackles per game doing that."

So just where did McAfee learn his tackling skills?

"You know, backyard football in Plum gets pretty crazy," he said with a drawl that reminds of actor Owen Wilson, and, of course, immediately lets the listener know he is joking. "Really, I have no idea. I just sort of jump on. One of those guys is going to take me for a ride one time and make me look bad, but so far it's worked well for me."

With the tackle, McAfee grabbed the spotlight, and perhaps the perceived competition, between himself and Syracuse kicker Patrick Shadle, a Morgantown High School graduate who was not offered a scholarship by WVU. However, as he has throughout their careers, McAfee pointed out that he and Shadle are friends.

"He sent me a bunch of messages and I sent him a bunch all week. We talked before the game, and [the weather] was pretty nasty out there. I told him, ‘It's a little different than the Dome, hey Shadle.' But he did well. I didn't think it was really me versus Pat. We are both happy where we are."

McAfee's free-spirited nature shouldn't be construed as a lack of passion for the game. He works hard on his kickoffs and placekicking, and has become a weapon in the Mountaineer kicking game in both. In addition to the points he produces, he has mastered three different styles of kicking off (deep, squib and sky kick) that keep opposing return games on their toes. His sky kick against Syracuse nearly wound up in WVU's hands, as the Orange, confused with the high, hanging kick that came to earth around the 23-yard line, wasn't in a spot they were accustomed to covering. Were it not for a very good bounce, the Mountaineers likely would have come up with the ball.

"That worked out perfectly," McAfee said. "I just try to hang it up there. We try to put it in a position where a guy that doesn't usually have to catch the ball has to play it. I don't necessarily try to get it to bounce backward, but I just try to put it in an awkward position for the other team."

One can only imagine McAfee's description of the events when WVU does recover one of his kicks in such a situation. One thing is for sure, McAfee's views will likely have an angle that no one else has thought of.


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