For most players on a football team, chances to prove themselves are many. Individual drills, team drills, scrimmages – all provide myriad opportunities to showcase their talents. For kickers and punters, however, those opportunities are fare fewer. While the former are on the field for the entire two-plus hours of a typical practice, kickers are center stage far less. There are some warm-ups, a couple of live periods where punt, placekicking or kickoffs are worked on, and then a few plays during the two or three live scrimmages that are held.
With those limited opportunities, that would seem to jack up the pressure on those competing for the job when they do get the chance to perform. Bitancurt, however, doesn't let the heightened tension bother him.
"I don't feel any pressure," he said of those times when the spotlight is on the specialists. "I like the attention on the field. I feel comfortable out there and I want to show them what I have, and I want the coaches to know that."
The flip side of the audition process is the fact that the coaches give little indication as to how the competition is stacking up. While head coach Bill Stewart has shared a bit of information with the media, there's not daily feedback heading the players' way.
"The c coaches don't give you an idea of how they will pick the starter or what they are thinking," said Bitancurt, who is clearly fighting hard for a spot. "So, I try not to think about that, because if you are worried about what the coaches are thinking, then you are worried about everything else. You just have to show them all the time, and that's why it's important to shine during the times when we have a chance to do it. We don't get that many chances, so you just have to do it."
The Virginia native is competing for both the placekicking and kickoff jobs, and believes he has the range necessary to win both.
"I guess I can say 55 –60 yards would be my range right now," he said of his maximum distance on field goal attempts. "Sixty would be tops, and that would be pushing it, especially with all the kicking going on lately. I would say I'm comfortable from 50-55. I have been working on kickoffs a lot. That was one of my favorite things to do in high school, but I lost something on those. I am tweaking some things, and hope that will be something I can do to help the team."
A couple of factors can contribute to loss of distance when making the jump from high school to college. The first is the loss of the tee, which can't be used on collegiate placekicks. The second is the number of kicks executed in college practices. Both contribute in their own way to the woes that many kickers experience. Placekicks begin to flutter off target or lose height, and kickoffs seem to be shortened. There are other factors that also play into this, and one of those is mental.
"Of course, in high school, we're kicking off from the 40 yard line. SO that's just 60 yards to get it to the end zone. In college, to kick it to the goal line, that's 70 yards. That's NFL distance," Bitancurt explained. "But it's really not so much the distance, because I could kick the ball that far in high school. It's the vision thing; it's a mental image. You see so much more of the field with that extra ten yards back (plus the end zone). It's surprisingly far. You get back there and you try to kill it, and you can't control the ball or kick it where you want to. It doesn't seem like much, but it is. That ten yard leap is a big difference. I kinda wish they had kept the kickoffs at the 35."
Overcoming those challenges to be a dependable threat is one of the biggest challenges of camp, but it's one that Bitancurt, as well as his teammates, embrace. Perhaps it's the knowledge of the difficulty of kicking that helps them bond. Despite the competition for the jobs, the specialist group, which spends a lot of time together, is supportive of each other.
"We all know that we are competing for the same spot, and we all know what we are here for. But if you hang around with us, you can't tell that we are competing. There aren't any rude comments or anything. We are all having fun."