If he has his way, Taylor Mehlhaff will change those notions.
Ranked as the country's sixth-best kicker by Lindy's and seventh-best by the Sporting News, Mehlhaff had one of the best kicking seasons in Wisconsin history. Mehlhaff made 15-of-20 field goals (four of his missed were 44 yards or longer), all 47 PATs and led the Big Ten with 42 touchbacks in 76 attempts. His 92 points were second on the team and fourth-most ever by a UW kicker. With all his accolades, Mehlhaff was named Special Teams Player of the Year.
Now in his senior season, Mehlhaff will have to put his power right leg to use, as the NCAA instituted a new rule moving kickoffs back five yards. The change doesn't bother Mehlhaff, as he believes, just like when the NCAA shorten the kickoff tees from two inches to one, that he'll have an advantage over all other kickers in the Big Ten.
Between kicking 50-yard field goals and chilling with his special team buddies, Taylor Mehlhaff sat down with Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull to talk about the kickoff changes, his training routine and his expectations for 2007.
Badger Nation: The big change for you this year is that the kickoffs will be on the 30-yard line instead of the 35. Bret said that he was worried about the effect that it would have and that you came up to him and told him not to worry and the extra five yards isn't a problem. How do you feel about moving back and does it pose a problem for you?
Taylor Mehlhaff: No, not really at all. Everyone's going to be kicking from there and I believe that my strength is my kickoffs. I told Coach B from the beginning that our team is going to have an advantage in this and I truly believe that. As summer came around and we kicked out here [at Camp Randall] a bunch, I saw how much stronger my leg is from kicking three to four days a week this whole summer. From the off-season workouts, I felt that I added a couple yards to my kicks. I am happy they moved us back to be honest with you. I think it's going to help our team out.
BN: With the rule change, have you set goals for yourself or has Coach Bielema put in a game plan for your kickoffs?
TM: I don't think too many guys in our league are going to be kicking touchbacks. My goal is to have 30 percent of my kicks go for touchbacks if Coach B lets me swing away at it. There might be a little ‘stratergy' as they say for directional kicks, which may happen a little more than in the past. We'll see how it goes.
BN: You haven't been kicking a lot of field goals during practice. How has your field goal kicking been during the off-season workouts and your training since the start of camp?
TM: Good. I've been kicking really well. I've gotten better height on the ball and been driving the ball a little bit better too. I've been getting into the ball. We'll get more kicks as we go. As you get older, you get a little bit smarter and instead of taking 25 kicks during practice, I'm trying to take more like 15 to try and save the leg a little big. I've learned in years past that's how you have to do it. When you kick everyday during camp, you've got to limit your kicks and be smart about it so you don't wear your leg out. That's why I've taken a few less kicks.
BN: What's your routine through a typical two-hour practice? Do you do a lot of weight training or calisthenics with your legs?
TM: We come out before practice and get warmed up, maybe do a little kicking before hand. We'll do our team stretch and maybe kick a couple field goals at the beginning. Then we have about an hour to 90 minutes and we'll go inside. I do a lot of footwork stuff. I really believe in doing footwork stuff. I'll practice my kickoff and field goal steps and I have some drills that I do that are non-kicking drills. Sometimes we'll go down into the weight room and do core stuff – we don't do a lot of leg lifting. We don't want to wear our legs out that way. We do little things like that.
In the middle of practice, we'll come back out and the punters will punt or we'll work on kickoffs. It's the life of a kicker. I am real big on working on footwork all the time.
BN: How often do you guys practice on onside kicks or trick plays? Last year, onside kicks didn't come into play a whole lot for you guys.
TM: We did one at Michigan I think. I guess it's a good thing we aren't doing them (laughing). That's something that I always work on as a kickoff guy and a kicker. You obviously have to have that in your bag of clubs. I work on them when we go inside. It's not something we work on a whole bunch in practice. When we come into game week, we'll hit a few on Thursdays just to get everyone on the same page with the timing of the ball and getting everyone to the ball. It's something Coach B expects me to do and execute it because we only get one chance at it and I better do it right.
BN: You were a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (nation's top place kicker) last year that put you on the national map. Do you have any expectations for yourself this year?
TM: For this year, I want to take it one kick at a time. I don't have a goal that I set out to be field goal wise. Every kick Coach B sends me out on the field to hit I want to drill it. I have that confidence in doing that from everywhere. Being a senior now, I feel real confident right now. After being out here a couple of years, you fill comfortable under the lights. As far as kickoffs, I feel I am going to shine right there. Obviously my goal is to always kick for the next level and hopefully, I'll get the chance to do that and make the best of it.