Kick Competition

Spring football is a time to fight to secure your position as a starter for the fall, and perhaps no squad of the West Virginia football team has as many positions up for grabs as special teams. Redshirt freshman Tyler Bitancurt is just one of many players fighting for one of those spots, and he is working to secure his spot as the Mountaineers' starting placekicker.

"(Special teams) are working really hard," admitted Bitancurt. "We've been working really hard and we've been pushing ourselves. We know we have a lot of work to do. We're all competing for the spots. Scott Kozlowski has been taking the punting and (doing) really well. We both need to work on our kickoffs. (Kozlowski) and I have been working on it and that's our main focus right now."

As the front runner for the kicking position, Bitancurt knows that he has some big shoes to fill as he tries to replace Pat McAfee, who held the reins tightly on all of West Virginia's kicking chores over the past two seasons. The two worked together last season and McAfee tried to instill some knowledge of the trade in Bitancurt, who was utilizing his redshirt season.

The danger in all of this, however, is in competing with someone who isn't there. Much as quarterback Jarrett Brown will have to shrug off comparisons to Pat White, so too will Bitancurt have to avoid comparing himself to the colorful McAfee.

"It's a job where I have to step up to the plate," said Bitancurt. "People have said that I have big shoes to fill but it's not about that. It's about my next kick. If I can make the kick, that's all the coaches really want right now. (McAfee) helped me learn to keep my cool and to prepare for big games. I try to stay relaxed. We're different and I'm not as goofy as him. I like to have fun but I can't pull the stunts he pulled."

Competing for a starting job early in a career, not to mention facing a big kick with the game on the line, might cause many players to get nervous. That's not the case, at least outwardly, for Bitancurt, who maintains that he is excited to get on the field. The freshman will imagine himself making a kick in a big game when he practices to set the mood.

"I love pressure and the coaches sometimes try to get in my head and tell me that the kick is to win the Orange Bowl or something like that," said Bitancurt. "That fuels me and those are my best games. The pressure is fun and that's why I play the game. I love it, if you can't handle pressure then you can't do your job."

All too soon, that pressure will start to mount, as Bitancurt faces challenges from his teammates. It is already coming from another direction, where all of the kickers are getting a bit of heat to improve their length and hang time on kickoffs. Bitancurt and Kozlowski are battling for that role, with Kozlowski showing as the starter thus far in spring practice.

"I really have a lot of work to do with my kickoffs," admitted Bitancurt. "That's my main focus right now."

That battle, one which could see more competitors (Bill Stewart has said that he will put a call out to the soccer team for candidates), is perhaps just as vital as the placekicking duties, as West Virginia struggled to keep foes pinned up after scoring last year. Just as good punts and coverage can pin opponents deep, so to can kickoffs. However, that has been an issue so far this spring, and one that Bitancurt and his teammates, as well as the coverage team, will be working diligently on during the remainder of spring.

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