kicker Josh Lambert
lined it all up and felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. This was overtime.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior focused keenly, pored through the paperwork one more time, grabbed a pen and split the dotted line perfectly with a clear and legible signature.
He is bound to be a West Virginia Mountaineer.
Lambert was one of the last kickers in the country to sign a letter of intent last Thursday. Most of the rest inked theirs on National Signing Day, Feb. 1.
There will be a whole slew of kickers from 2012 likely signing sometime - anytime - over the next year or two.
The recruiting process for them is different than that for the mainstream athletes – the quarterbacks, running backs and linemen – or as they are called around the locker room, the real players. Kickers and punters are simply specialists, pinch-hitters, designated free throw shooters.
"I've heard that my whole career," said Colby Cooke
, a senior kicker from Goochland (Va.)
who has secured a scholarship to Vanderbilt. "You have to block all that out. We're a part of the team like everyone else."
Try telling that to recruiters and college coaches. Most of them string along these impassioned young lads, promising them an offer is on the horizon, which more times than not turns out to be a preferred walk-on spot proposal.
"They want to see what you can do under pressure," said David Smith, whose son Jon David Smith
from Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills, Calif.)
signed a 66-percent offer from NAIA school Southern Oregon. "Unless you're a Top 10 kid in the nation, most schools are going to rely on walks-ons."
That might be changing. More kids than ever are getting full and partial rides straight out of high school.
From the Class of 2012, 45 letters of intent have been signed by kickers or punters from the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Those include two signees each to Florida State, Purdue, Georgia, Washington and TCU.
That means one out of three Division I programs are committing to kickers early and not asking them to walk-on.
That, in part, appears to be due to more specialty camps and coaching so recruiters feel confident they're getting a polished product, a more sure bet. Then again, judging by all the last-second chip-shot misses in high-profile games at every level, nothing is a sure thing in the land of kicking.
Never has been and probably never will be.Good advice
In the recruiting process, that will always put the kickers on unfair footing, so to speak.
"It's really a hard process," Cooke said. "You get told that you're going to get offers by college recruiters, but then it doesn't happen. You just got to keep working hard. Something will break."
Cooke, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior, made the under-19 USA team that just played in the 2012 International Bowl on National Signing Day in Austin, Texas. He was fifth in the country with 17 field goals in 21 attempts in 2011 with a long of 51 yards. Remarkably, a second kicker from Goochland earned a scholarship in punter Thomas Meadows
, who signed at Purdue.
Cooke said his big break came at a Vanderbilt camp.
"I just killed the workout," he said. "The next day they offered me and I jumped on it."
Shortly after accepting, more offers came in, including Virginia Tech, the school that originally asked him to walk-on. Virginia and Richmond were also in the mix. Making his decision more complicated was that Vanderbilt already has two kickers on scholarship, thus coaches asked Cooke to grayshirt. That means he won't enroll onto the Nashville, Tenn., campus until spring of 2013.
No problem, Cooke said.
"I just felt loved there," he said. "I love the head coach, all the coaches, the school, everything."
Picking the school and education – more so than just football – is vital, especially for kickers, said Marist (Atlanta)
senior Austin Hardin
, who has signed to the University of Florida. In a tremendous series offered by kickology.com
, college-bound kickers throughout the country offered advice for high-level high school specialists.
"If you had a career-ending injury you first year, would you still love your college?" Hardin wrote. "Make sure it's a place you love and want to earn a degree from."
Other advice offered on the site:
"My kicking coach told me to remember to look out for yourself," said Texas-bound Nick Jordan
, from Coppell (Texas)
. "The college coaches don't care about me, just about me playing for them, so I need to remember to make decisions for my own good."
Illinois-bound Ryan Frain
, of Scecina Memorial (Indianapolis)
, said don't expect college coaches to show up at your game and make an offer. He said he spent hours on the computer to make contact with coaches and recruiters.
"Do everything in your power to get your name in front of coaches," he wrote. "You just never know what's going to fall through."
Frain also wrote: "Enjoy every second of it. It truly is an exciting process that not a lot of athletes experience."
Connecticut-bound Bobby Puyol
, of Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.)
, put it this way.
"Go to where you are celebrated, not tolerated." Late bloomer
All the good advice in the world won't help unless you act swiftly, Smith said. His son fell into the recruiting game very late, but jumped in head and feet first. It helped that Jon David Smith had some natural talent.
As a sophomore, Jon David, who had played youth soccer for 10 years, was messing around on the football field and almost by accident kicked a 60-yard field goal. Word got back to the football coach, and well, a football star was born – by kicking standards anyway.
He transitioned quickly into the game and booted seven field goals as a junior and 44 PATs, tying three school records. Dave helped his son get serious into the kicking process and helped him get training through nationally known
"It's not only about the training and instruction, but getting to camps," Dave Smith said.
Jon David attended a couple national events in Las Vegas and worked hard in the weight room to build his leg strength on top of his 5-11, 180-pound frame. That helped him add 10 to 15 yards to his kickoffs.
Despite that, and a terrific senior season – he kicked seven more field goals, 40 PATS, had 44 touchbacks in 62 kickoff attempts with a long of 74 yards – he was too late to garner any Division I looks, his dad said.
"You need to get going by your sophomore season," David Smith said.
That said, Jon David, with offers from Sacramento State and Butler and interest from Humboldt State, took the offer from Southern Oregon.
"Everything all worked out for the best," David Smith said. "All the process was worth it."
* * *
There are some great online resources for kickers.
Among them: kohlskicking.com
(thorough rating service of kickers), chrissailerkicking.com
(also includes long snapping), kicking.com
(superb expert blog and news section) and kickology.com
(the study of all things kicker related). 2012 KICKERS DIVISION I LETTER OF INTENT SIGNEESJoshua Appleby
, East Limestone (Athens, Ala.)
, LouisvilleChris Ayers
, South Broward (Hollywood, Fla.)
, Florida InternationalCason Beatty
, Olympic (Charlotte, N.C.)
, Florida StateGeorge Bullock, West (Knoxville, Tenn.)
, TennesseeRon Coluzzi
, Naperville North (Ill.)
, Central MichiganColby Cooke
, Goochland (Va.)
, VanderbiltCameron Decell
, Boyd (McKinney, Texas)
, RiceKa'imi Fairbairn
, Punahou (Honolulu)
, UCLAAnthony Farinella
, Downers Grove South (Ill.)
, Bowling GreenKyle Federico
, Ponte Vedra (Fla.)
, Independence (Thompson's Station, Tenn.)
Ryan Frain, Scecina Memorial (Indianapolis)
, IllinoisRalph Freibert
, Jesuit (New Orleans)
, Army (Can't sign yet)Jimmy Gammill
, New Albany (Ohio)
, PennsylvaniaTyler Grassman
, Lincoln (Gahanna, Ohio)
, BuffaloAustin Grebe
, North Stafford (Stafford, Va.)
, NavyAdam Griffith
, Calhoun (Ga.)
, AlabamaPaul Griggs
, Charlotte Latin (N.C.)
, PurdueAustin Hardin
, Marist (Atlanta)
, FloridaRyan Hawkins
, Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.)
, Northern ArizonaJace Johnson
, Eagle (Idaho)
, IdahoNick Jordan
, Coppell (Texas)
Ryan Key, Dutchtown (Hampton, Ga.)
., TroyConnor Kornbrath
, Bridgeport (W. Va.)
, IowaJosh Lambert
, Garland (Texas)
, West VirginiaCole Leinenger
, Bartram Trail (St. Johns, Fla.)
, CalAustin Lopez
, Trinity (Euless, Texas)
, San Jose StateRoss Martin
, Walsh Jesuit (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio)
, Duke Thomas Meadows
, Goochland (Va.), PurdueAnthony Melchiori
, Aurora (Ohio)
, Kent StateSeamus McMorrow
, St. Augustine (San Diego)
, San Diego StateNathan Noble Washington (Greenville, Miss.)
Marshall Morgan, Archbishop McCarthy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
, GeorgiaRyan Norton
, Garden City (N.Y.)
, SyracuseJaden Oberkrom
, Martin (Arlington, Texas)
, TCUGarrett Owens
, Arroyo Grande (Calif.)
, Oregon StateAndy Pappanastos
, Trinity Presbyterian (Montgomery, Ala.)
, MississippiKaleb Patterson
, Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
, Miami (Ohio)Matthew Pensa
, Austin (Decatur, Ala.)
, North Carolina State. Ethan Perry
, Smithson Valley (Spring Branch, Texas)
, TCUBradley Pinion
, Northwest Cabarrus (Concord, N.C.)
, ClemsonBobby Puyol
, Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.)
, ConnecticutDaniel Schwarz
, MacArthur (Lawton, Okla.)
, TulsaNicholas St. Germain
, McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.)
, South CarolinaSean Wale
, La Habra (Calif.)
, Boise State