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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Make sure you make it’

Finally on the field, kicker Branstetter feels sense of urgency

Forced to miss the first game of the season, Jacob Branstetter since has gone 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts.

Forced to miss the first game of the season, Jacob Branstetter since has gone 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts.

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Forced to miss the first game of the season, Jacob Branstetter since has gone 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts.

With Kansas University's football team driving for a potential game-winning field goal in the final minute of Friday's 37-34 loss at South Florida, KU place-kicker Jacob Branstetter went through his usual routine on the sideline.

Visualize. Focus. Kick. Visualize. Focus. Kick.

But as Branstetter prepped both mind and body for the possible late-game heroics, KU quarterback Todd Reesing tossed an interception on his 51st pass attempt.

In an instant, the fate of the game switched from Branstetter's foot to that of South Florida freshman Maikon Bonani, who responded by nailing a 43-yarder that handed Kansas its first loss of the season, just its second in the past 16 games.

It's hard not to see how Branstetter's night against USF parallels the start of his KU career.

One minute, he was winning the starting kicking job in the preseason, and the next he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and temporarily off the team.

"Definite roller coaster," the red-shirt sophomore from Lawton, Okla., said. "Mentally, emotionally. I had a lot of phone calls home to mom and dad and a lot of nights talking to my fiancee."

In the days after the Jayhawks' season-opening victory over Florida International, Branstetter was cleared to play. KU coach Mark Mangino instantly inserted him into the starting lineup for Week 2, and the move paid off right away.

Branstetter made all three field-goal attempts in a 29-0 victory over Louisiana Tech. He followed that up with a 2-for-2 showing Friday at South Florida.

"I had faith that it would all work out," he said. "And maybe me missing that (FIU) game is going to keep me more focused because I know that in a moment it could be gone. So every time I walk out there to kick, I'm going to make sure I make the best of that kick. I try to use a cliche, or kind of a saying, 'Make sure you make it.'"

Branstetter, who began his kicking career as a sophomore in high school, always had confidence in his right leg. Plenty of practice, novels worth of self-motivation and the sincere belief that he was born to do this have led him to this point in his life - starting in the Big 12 Conference on a nationally ranked team.

Like the beginning of the 2008 season, the road to Kansas was not entirely smooth for Branstetter.

After racking up numerous prep honors at MacArthur High, including district Special Teams Player of the Year in 2005, Branstetter chose to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Although he was thrilled to be kicking in college, something seemed off.

"I went to the Air Force and didn't feel like that was really the right place for me," he said. "When I got back (home), my parents said, 'Maybe Kansas is the right place.' So I thought back on all the good times I had here, and I saw the program going up. Being an Oklahoman, coach Mangino being at OU and winning a national championship as an offensive coordinator there : I knew this program was going in the right direction, and I just wanted to be a part of that."

Branstetter first came to KU the summer after his junior year of high school. He attended the Jayhawks' kicking camp, fell in love with the campus and found himself back in Lawrence two years later.

He red-shirted in 2006, sat unnoticed behind Scott Webb in 2007 and finally is getting his chance in 2008.

Because of all he has been through, Branstetter does not allow himself to look too far into the future.

"I haven't actually had time to slow down and think about those things," he said. "I don't know if I would even consider looking at record books or anything like that. I haven't really had time. I'm trying to focus on my responsibility as a teammate and as a kicker. Those guys are out there pounding their heads together and running the ball up and down the field, and it's my job to go out there and put points on the board."

Whether he does usually can be determined before the ball even reaches the uprights.

"My high school kicking coach said he didn't have to watch me kick, he could just hear it," Branstetter said. "It's a lot like golf. If you hear like a flapping sound, you probably hit it off the toe or you hit it fat. If you hear a thump, if you hear a good, solid thud, you know you hit it good. That's what I look for."

The first time he heard that noise was during his sophomore year in high school, when he nailed a 42-yard game-winner to give MacArthur its first city championship in 15 years.

"When I get into those moments where maybe I'm not kicking the ball so well, I'll look back on that kick and think, 'You know what, you can do this. You've been doing it since high school,'" he said.

Today, those moments typically come after kickoffs, which Branstetter admits have been sub-par.

But that's the only aspect of the past three weeks that has dampened Branstetter's spirits. He's happy now. The transfer, being ineligible, wondering if he'd ever kick again : that's all behind him.

"During the time that I was ineligible, I had a chance to relax," he said. "Not relax in that I wasn't practicing, but relax mentally and relax emotionally and just enjoy kicking the ball again. And during that week and a half, my leg was fresh, I was really hitting the ball well, and I knew that if I just stayed focused and relaxed, when I came back, I was going to hit the ball as well or better than I ever had. It's been a great start to the season."

Comments

lance1jhawk 9 years, 2 months ago

dagger I couldn't agree more. If he can't stick it in the end zone each and every time we should be looking for someone on the team who can. He could still have FG duties, but should retire from the kick-off team.

bmcmich1 9 years, 2 months ago

seriously -- giving the opponent the ball on at least their 30-35 yd line is an absolute killer. the 'hawks have to find someone who can produce touchbacks.

Kit Duncan 9 years, 2 months ago

number1jayhawker, I couldn't agree more. It's only two games into the season/career for this young man and he's doing extremely well! Just as we've become jaded in expecting this team to win every game, we expect every kickoff to go out of the endzone.Two points: 1. Jacob has made every field goal he's kicked. 2. Although short, his kickoffs have had enough hang-time for coverage to contain the returner.I'm not a kicker, but it did look as though on one of his kickoffs he dragged his foot on the carpet, much like dragging the driver on the ground when teeing off. The club speed would be slower and the ball would tend to be struck on an upswing causing a higher shorter drive.Keep working on it Jacob... great opportunities lie ahead for you!Rock Chalk!

troutsee 9 years, 2 months ago

I know this article is about the kicking game, etc., but I want to talk about defensive coordinators and other things. I have been disconnected from you all for about 10 days, as I was fishing in a remote Canadian lake and had no communication to the real world. When I returned I read through the chat comparing Bowen to Young, and Bowen's poor scheming for the SFU game. First of all, I have a ton of respect for Bill Young, as he was right much of the time but not all of the time. Yes, there were times during the Bill Young days that our defense got its lunch handed to it, i.e. Texas in Austin 3 years ago after we had beaten them here the year before (I still will not call that game, stolen from us by a Texas bred back judge, a defeat)....or...how about Okie States second half against us in Lawrence two years ago....or.. MU last year....or....NU last year (yes I know we clobbered them but they moved the ball with ease against our defense). So, Bill Young did not have all the answers and our defense did have some bad games under his leadership. In like manner, Bowen's defense must have looked terrible against a very good SFU offense, and yes, maybe our scheme for the game stunk, but it was only ONE game, and we almost won the game......in the other team's back yard. Hey guys, I am not ready to give up on Clint Bowen based on one game. We have a tough schedule but believe me our team is going to turn some heads before this season is over.Second, we simply have to keep working to improve the offensive line....and especially the run game. I have been saying for weeks that Quigley is the guy.

Warren 9 years, 2 months ago

Ill take a few 25-30 yard starts for the opposing team in the rain and against the wind in trade for 100% accuracy on field goals anyday. 2 missed field goals were the difference in us going undefeated in the regular season last year.

Matt Tait 9 years, 2 months ago

Branstetter talked a little about the kickoffs in the interview but I wasn't able to get it in the article because it got too long. When I asked him what area of his game he thought he could improve, he didn't hesitate and said kickoffs right away. Here's a little taste of what he had to say: "Any time I'm struggling with my kickoffs, I just think back to what I'm doing well on my field goals. Because a kickoff is basically just a long field goal with a couple of extra steps." "I feel like I'm hitting the ball well on my field goals and extra points, but I have to improve my distance on kickoffs. I'm getting good hang time and good direction but for some reason I'm just not hitting it quite right. I'm hearing a little flapping instead of that thud." "I know how important it is and I just want to get the ball inside the five, at least, or get a touchback. I did better in the second half against South Florida and got a couple of touchbacks when we needed them most." "I know that a touchback can be a lift to the defense and I just want to do my part to help this team win ballgames."

number1jayhawker 9 years, 2 months ago

Boy it sure is easy to get on here and critize someone and expect them to be perfect in every thing they do."He needs to kick it in the end zone every time" "He needs to make the field goal every time". Go try and kick a football as hard as you can and be accurate too. Can't do it? Didn't think so. Please ease up on the kid a little bit. OK?Oh, and it's USF! :-)

PJ Karasek 9 years, 2 months ago

I was always told that if you can hold your opponent to starts within their own 30 it's considered good kickoffs/coverage. While I too am concerned with this potential problem, I'm willing to hold off judgement till this saturday when he's kicking in 75 degrees and sunny. Did I mention i can't wait for gameday?

bmcmich1 9 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for that, matt.It's good to see that Jacob is conscious of the problem, and I have no doubt he'll go to great lengths to correct it.Hopefully most everyone knows that football is a game meant to be played under almost any conditions weather-wise -- players are expected to perform no matter what the weather is like. Although I agree the weather wasn't ideal for kickoffs, I doubt Branstetter would use that as an excuse.Great players aren't only great when the weather is 75 degrees and sunny, they are great no matter what the weather is like.

GrayHawker 9 years, 2 months ago

We got very spoiled with the strength that Webb had in his kickoffs. Watching the KSU/UL game last night, kickoffs were frequently around the 10 yard line. That is pretty much the average around the country except for the handful of kickers with a shot at going on to the NFL. Coaches have to decide whether to kick it high and a little shorter to get better coverage or kick it low and longer to get more distance.

Rick Arnoldy 9 years, 2 months ago

Did you notice he hasn't exactly had ideal conditions yet. First rain then wind?

JBurtin 9 years, 2 months ago

Another note,Everybody on here has failed to mention that kickoffs were recently backed up by another five yards. Virtually every kicker used to kick it through the endzone, but very few are doing it now.He admits it's been a problem, but I certainly wouldn't expect him to get it out of the endzone every time. Averaging around the 5 yard line is now quite acceptable and anything beyond that is a bonus.Not to mention, our coverage still needs some work. His kicks are somewhat short, but the real reason that the other team is getting it at the 35 is because we're simply letting them get a good return.

Dirk Medema 9 years, 2 months ago

Did you not ask him more about the kick-offs? What does he expect/should we expect? What does he attribute the lack of distance to?It is great that he is accurate, but giving the opposition a free pass on at least 10 yds per kick-off hurts.

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