Lerner Ready to Get His Kicks

The University of Wisconsin doesn't recruit the state of Nebraska, which makes the fact sophomore walk-on kicker Alec Lerner gets a chance to compete against his home state school in one of the most anticipated conference games in school history makes it all that more enjoyable.

MADISON – When the Big Ten official flips the coin in the air Saturday night, UW sophomore kicker Alec Lerner has two options that he's hoping for. One, Wisconsin wins the toss and elects to defer to the second half. Two, Nebraska wins the toss and elects to receive.

Either of those options will work for Lerner, who is aiming to kickoff UW's Big Ten opener with a bang. "I would like to get the jitters out and set the tone," Lerner said. "There wouldn't be a better time to make up for my mistakes than in this game."

Of all the players on No.7 Wisconsin's active roster, it's fair to say none of them have looked forward to playing No.8 Nebraska as much as Lerner. A native of Omaha, Lerner grew up in the heart of Nebraska country but never bled Cornhusker red. He grew up a soccer player, and never thought about dabbling in football until he sent some kicking tapes out to colleges.

Wisconsin was interested but didn't have the roster space or the need to carry another kicker. That changed when backup Matt Fischer left the program to pursue a medical degree in the Ivy League. The Badgers contacted Lerner, offered him a preferred walk-on spot and away he came.

"I always wanted to come here so once I found out I could walk-on here, it was a sure thing," said Lerner, who turned down a preferred walk-on offer at Minnesota and mild interest from Nebraska. "(Fischer) actually left the day they watched my tape, so things just fell into place. I wanted to leave Nebraska for college, so just being here and having the chance to play them is awesome."

That decision was reinforced last year when Lerner soaked in the atmosphere from the sidelines of Wisconsin's 13-point victory over No.1 Ohio State and then found himself in the middle of the mob at midfield. He almost got his helmet taken, nearly got trampled and loved every second of it.

"As a person on the sideline, you can totally feel the passion in the game," Lerner said. "Now that I am playing, it's going to be an amplified excitement."

Instead of being a guaranteed spectator this time, Lerner is a guaranteed participant. With Philip Welch still working on getting back to full strength, Lerner will handle the kickoffs for the fifth straight game. The results have been generally positive considering the amount of work he's gotten. Kicking 30 times through four games, Lerner is averaging 61.5 yards per kickoff with five touchbacks. Problem is that he has booted three out of bounds, including consecutive kickoffs last week against South Dakota.

"When I have a good kick, that shows me what I can do and what I know I can do but when I have a bad kick, that's what I start doubting what I am capable of," said Lerner, who described the UNLV and Northern Illinois game as his two good games of the year. "When you don't trust you are going to hit a good kick, you aren't going to. I just have to remember that I won the kickoff spot and I am really good at kickoffs."

The problem for Lerner is over kicking. Against the Coyotes, Lerner has the wind at his back for the two misfired kickoffs because he tried to blast his kickoff into the third row. The goal this week for co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge, who also works with the kickers, is trying to keep Lerner calm and in check.

After all, Lerner won the job in camp by showcasing his powerful leg and not letting outside influences distract him.

"We just need to do everything we can to keep him poise and do what we know he can do, what he does in practice and what he does in pregame," said Partridge, who said Lerner's steps were off, causing his hips to be open on his wayward kicks. "He's a competitor. It's a learning process for him and he'll be better for what he went through the last couple weeks."

Lerner couldn't give a ballpark estimate as to how many family and friends will be in attendance Saturday for both school's conference opener. He also had to turn his phone off because the amount of calls and text messages asking him about tickets and for a place to stay became too overwhelming.

"I had about 16 friends that were going to sleep in my backyard and just throw a tent down," Lerner said. "Thankfully they found a hotel room."

Consider that one less distraction that Lerner will have to deal with.

"It's kind of a surreal feeling because my whole life growing up there, you realize how big of a deal football is (in Nebraska)," Lerner said. "I am excited to be a part of this game."

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