Getting A Leg Up on the Competition

The best kicker in the state of Wisconsin and one of the best in the nation for 2009, Hartland's Jeff Budzien is already a solid kicker. Combine that with one-on-one workouts with Taylor Mehlhaff and Budzien could be the best kicker out there.

MADISON - Jeff Budzien already knew that he was a pretty good kicker.

Ranked highly by a number of organizations, the soccer-style kicker from Hartland Arrowhead High School has already put up some gaudy numbers in his prep career. Being named a first-team All-State member by the AP as a junior, Budzien converted 66 of his 67 extra point attempts and went 6-for-11 on his field goals, including a long of 55 yards.

But when an All-American kicker Taylor Mehlhaff was willing to give him some tips on his craft, Budzien was all ears.

"Obviously he's the number one kicker for his class and the advice and tips he's given me is the best lesson I can have," Budzien told Badger Nation. "He's shown me all the workouts that he's done and he's been so helpful. He's not cocky or arrogant and is willing to help a high school kid get better. You can tell his hard work has paid off because he's got the hardest work ethic I have ever seen in an athlete."

Spending time in April working out in Madison, Budzien, already a prolific kicker for the Warhawks where 71 of his 98 kickoffs reached the end zone, could immediately see a difference in his kicking game after spending time with Mehlhaff.

"My kickoffs after working with him got so much better," Budzien said. "I used to be just average at kickoffs and he's one of the best kickoff people in the nation. He told me so many small pointers and minor stuff to hitting a kickoff that it has turned me into a powerful kickoff guy and I can now hit the ball deep into the end zone."

In addition to working with Mehlhaff, Budzien had worked out in Chicago for the May Event Elite Camp, in Houston for Kohl's Kicking Camp and in Las Vegas for Chris Sailer's camp, all of which equals a full summer of travel and work.

But the most pressure Budzien has seen so far this year was the environment surrounding the Wisconsin kickers during one of the Badgers' spring practices, a kicking environment that Budzien said is totally different than high school.

"In high school, special teams are usually the last thing you do in practice but Wisconsin spends so much time on kicking and they chart every single kick, which means you have to take every kick seriously," Budzien said. "The kick you kick is being watched on film over and over and that's how you're going to get judged, whether you are the first-string kicker or the second string. Every small kick can make the big difference."

Although one of the top kickers in the Class of 2009, Budzien only holds one scholarship offer, an offer that came from Army on May 5. Even so, Budzien has received a lot of interest from Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as being contacted by Kansas State, Louisville and Michigan.

"It's funny that the top 30 quarterbacks in the nation have a lot of offers on your table but kickers are in a little different process where you can be ranked fifth in the nation and don't have an offer yet," Budzien joked. "It's more of a waiting game to see who's going to pull the trigger. Kicking is real important and some schools are starting to realize that now."

Living in North Carolina until he was eight, Budzien made a brief stop in Cleveland before moving to Hartland for fifth grade. Growing up playing soccer, Budzien gave football a try and found out he had a knack and a talent for kicking.

"I am a real soccer style kicker," he said. "I have tried to adopt some of Taylor's form after working with him but after playing soccer, I didn't have the perfect kicking form but a good form. After working with Taylor, it's really helped my swing."

With his 20-year-old older brother just finishing his freshman year at Madison, Budzien has had plenty of opportunities to hear about all the positives Madison has to offer. While he hopes to make a decision before the year is over, Budzien would love nothing more to enjoy the college experience with his brother.

"He loves it there in Madison. It would be pretty cool to go to the same school he's going to," Budzien said. "But I am not going to be picky. Any school that wants a kicker is a good school.

"It wouldn't be a guarantee that I would go to Wisconsin because there are schools like Minnesota where I could start kicking right away. I think I would have to weigh my options with playing time, location and especially education. Wisconsin would however be one of my top options."

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