Hoosier kickers under pressure as competition continues

Tom Allen’s bullhorn is an all-important accessory for Indiana football practices.

The IU coach uses it to bark instructions, critique performance and, generally, to amplify the volume of his gravel-tone voice. Allen also uses the bullhorn to get inside his kickers’ heads. Sometimes, he’ll holler as they line up to attempt a field goal, providing a measure of artificial pressure. Other times, he’ll create stress by sounding the siren while his kicker waits for the hold.

With the graduation of two-time Big Ten kicker of the year Griffin Oakes, Indiana needs a new placekicker. Scholarship freshman Charles Campbell and junior walk-on Logan Justus are the two contenders for the job, but both are unproven.

Leg strength is one factor. Accuracy is another. But to Allen and special teams coach William Inge, the greatest indicator of competence is how a kicker handles a pressure situation.

“We know we can all kick and can all do our job when it’s 70 and sunny,” Inge said. “But when the heat is turned up and everything is on the line and you have 100,000 fans screaming against you, can you still have that same composure, that same calmness to execute the muscle memory it needs to put the ball through the uprights?”

Of course, no matter what Indiana puts Campbell and Justus through during practice this month, the Hoosiers won’t know if they’re game ready until one of them takes the field on Sept. 1 at Florida International.

Until then, the coaching staff is charting every kick in practice and in the scrimmages, while also trying to create an environment where Campbell and Justus have to cancel out the noise around them.

Allen’s bullhorn works to that effect. So, too, do the rowdy teammates and coaches around them trying to knock off their mental balance.

“Most of the time we explain to them the scenario and the situation,” Inge said. “We put them under that much pressure so they know it in practice. Their teammates, the players, the other guys on the opposite side of the ball, they’re coming with a little bit of stink to put them under a little more pressure as well. That’s the biggest thing we’re doing is we’re trying to have them show their courage under fire right now in practice.”

With scrimmages closed, it’s hard to say which kicker has the edge.

Justus, a left-footed graduate of Mt. Vernon, has been with the program since the 2015 season, but has yet to appear in a game. Campbell, a right-footed prospect out of Jackson, Tenn., was named a U.S. Army All-American during his senior year of high school. Rivals also ranked him the No. 5 kicker nationally.

One thing that is apparent with Campbell are his mechanics.

“He does have great drive and great lift on the ball,” Inge said. “That’s what makes him special, because that ball gets great lift right now. Individually up front, the field goal block unit, if they do get push, he can get enough lift on the ball to where the ball’s got a chance to get through the uprights.”

Field goals aren’t the only consideration for Allen and Inge this month. It’s also possible that whichever kicker doesn’t win the placekicking job will handle kickoffs. Jared Smolar, a sophomore transfer from Rutgers, is also in the mix for kickoff duties.

“We’ll have a chance to see them with their legs fresh, and we’ll see them kick off (Thursday morning),” Allen said. “And we’ll make an evaluation of those guys. Because that’s one skill that you don’t want to do a lot of, so as to not ‘over-kick.’ Because it takes a lot to be able to execute that. Jared’s a guy I’d consider a front-runner for that spot, but he’s still got to win that job, too.

“So we’ve got a lot of things that are still (unsettled) out there, early in camp, and that’s what you want to see – competition.”

3 comments

  1. Hard to imagine the walk-on beating out the guy who was rated as the fifth best HS kicker in the country last year and who was given a scholarship. But may the best leg win!

  2. Competition between the kickers drives each to get better every day. Smolar was at Rutgers but became a walk-on for IU so he has talent and Campbell will be hard pressed to beat him out as a freshman. Let the best kicker win and give IU a consistent dependable FG kicker when the game is on the line.

Comments are closed.