Michigan Football Preview 2013

2013 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 167 of 267

"Punting wasn't necessarily ever part of the plan," Ortega said. "Around eighth or ninth grade, it was obvious that he was talented as a kicker and that he would have the opportunity to play somewhere. But, at that point, if he really wanted to become unbelievably valuable, we needed to work on punting." While Wile struggled to consistently drop the ball and get off a good punt, Ortega encouraged him to continue working on the skill. When Wile was a junior — after a year of serious work as a punter — Ortega said he projected him as a BCS-caliber punter. "If you threw Matt out of a car going 35 miles an hour, he'd probably land on his feet and not take a step. He is so strong, in his lower body, and he has great body control," Ortega noted. "You could see that he had all the tools to be a great punter, and after he put in the work, he just took off." At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Wile finally had a chance to showcase his newfound punting prowess on a national stage. "I went to a small high school, so an av- erage crowd was 1,200 people," Wile said. "Then I get there, and there are 50,000 people in the stands. My first punt, I had jitters and hit a 36-yard punt. But it was fun — and after that I started bombing the ball." He finished the game with six punts, averaging 41.0 yards per attempt. During his freshman season at Michigan, he punted en lieu of Hagerup 17 times, averaging 41.6 yards per kick. "It took some getting used to, but now I love punting," Wile said. "I like punting more than kicking field goals. That's not to say I don't love kicking field goals. But there's something about the way the ball feels off your foot, in comparison to a field goal. Just watching that thing fly. Although hitting a field goal feels pretty sweet, too." At that time, neither he nor Hagerup had mastered a solid pooch punt, and when he returned home after the 2011 season, he had a new goal in mind. He wanted to develop a short-range punt, and he went back to Ortega to do it. Fortunately, Ortega is an old friend of former San Diego Chargers punter Darren Bennett. A native Australian, Bennett played 11 seasons in the Victorian Football League, an Australian-rule rugby association. He moved to the United States in the mid-1990s and introduced the drop-nose kick to the NFL, a move that has steadily gained popularity since its arrival. In the Australian-rules punt, a kicker holds the ball with the thumbs over the top of the laces and the tip of the ball slanted toward the ground. Kicking with the top of the foot, a kicker can produce a fierce backward spin on the ball. "Some guys will just try to kill the ball before it goes into the end zone, some guys try to hit it high and hope it doesn't go in, and I started using the drop-nose punt," Wile said. "I knew Bennett, and I started working with him and that's when I got comfortable with it. I would say I'm still just OK at the punt. I'm proficient. But I still have trouble kicking the ball far enough. "You should be able to punt that ball almost as far as the regular punt, depending on the angle of the ball and how high you drop it. I need to do a lot more repetition with U-M Kickers Have Big Legs In 1934, Detroit Lions kicker Glenn Presnell did the unthinkable: he kicked a field goal longer than 50 yards, setting an NFL record (54 yards) that stood for 19 seasons. When the Lions got back from their 3-0 win at Green Bay — propelled by Presnell's remarkable kick — local news affiliates made the team line up from 54 yards out, so they could recreate the feat in pictures. Through the 1960s, NFL kickers made just 13.1 percent of their attempts of 50 yards or longer, according to a report by CBSSports.com. But the game is changing — last year, NFL kickers made an astounding 94 kicks of 50-plus yards, smashing the previous record of 66, set in 2008. At the collegiate level, the 50-yarder took even longer to come around. The Wolverines didn't record a 50-yard field goal until 1973, when placekicker Mike Lantry set the program record with a 50-yard field goal in a 47-10 win over Stanford. Lantry beat his own record in the Kickers With 50-Yard Field Goals, U-M History Kicker Hayden Epstein boomed a school-record 57-yard field goal versus Michigan State in U-M's 26-24 loss on Nov. 3, 2001. photo by per kjeldsen 50-Yard Kicker Years Played Makes Hayden Epstein 1998-2001 4 Mike Gillette 1985-88 3 Bob Bergeron 1987-84 3 J.D. Carlson 1989-91 2 Jay Feely 1995-98 2 Mike Lantry 1972-74 2 Matt Wile 2011- 1 Brendan Gibbons 2009- 1 Jason Olesnavage 2006-09 1 K.C. Lopata 2004-08 1 166  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview Long 57 56 52 51 51 51 53 52 51 50 same game, later kicking a 51-yarder against the Cardinal. Until Lantry's two 50-yarders, no kicker in Michigan history had converted an attempt longer than 42 yards (Dana Coin, 1970 versus Arizona). In fact, until Lou Baldacci hit a 38-yard field goal against Illinois in 1953, the program record was 20 yards, set by Tom Harmon in 1940. Lantry's record stood for 11 seasons, until Bob Bergeron bested him by a yard, kicking a 52-yarder in a 20-11 loss to Washington in 1984. Bergeron hit three 50-yarder during his career and still holds the U-M career record for field goal accuracy (82.9 percent). Mike Gillette, who ranks third in program history with 57 field goals, claimed the record in 1988, booting a 56-yard field goal in a 34-31 win over Ohio State. In 2001, kicker Hayden Epstein broke Gillette's mark, with a 57-yarder against Michigan State. Epstein's record still stands. And last year, the Wolverines saw two separate kickers break the 50-yard barrier in the same season for the first time ever, when Brendan Gibbons, now a fifth-year senior, hit a 52-yarder at Nebraska, and Matt Wile, now a junior, nailed a 53-yarder in the Outback Bowl. With two years of eligibility and the longrange field goal responsibilities, Wile will have a chance to break Epstein's record of four 50-plusyard field goals in his Michigan career. Currently, Wile says, in perfect conditions, he would feel confident in attempting a 57-yarder, which would tie Epstein's record. Any farther back, and Wile says the probability of making it would drop to approximately 30 percent. — Andy Reid

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