Tuesday, February 12, 2013

KU football counting on help from walk-ons

Hutch CC place-kicker Michael Mesh, left, and offensive lineman Colby Hamel have announced they will walk on to Kansas' football team for the 2012 season.

Hutch CC place-kicker Michael Mesh, left, and offensive lineman Colby Hamel have announced they will walk on to Kansas' football team for the 2012 season.


In the weeks leading up to signing day, most of the attention was focused on the football players with stars next to their names and scholarship offers on the table in front of them.

On Wednesday, however, a few unfamiliar names made their way onto the Kansas University football radar on national signing day. Sure, these guys are preferred walk-ons, which is to say they were encouraged to join the program but will not receive a scholarship, so their impact may be minimal. But there are tales of former walk-ons who have made good, so it’s worth taking a quick look at who these guys are.

It’s worth noting that even though the additional members in the class will be walking on, the NCAA still has rules against coaches speaking about them too soon. There also are strict rules concerning how recruited walk-ons are handled before arriving on campus. Coaches are not allowed to initiate more than one phone call to a potential walk-on, and those players are not allowed to take official visits. What’s more, there is paperwork that must be taken care of before coaches can announce the addition of walk-ons, should they choose to do so. Some don’t. KU coach Charlie Weis does.

The one walk-on Weis was able to introduce on signing day was former Hutchinson Community College place kicker and Hutchinson native Michael Mesh, who already has enrolled in classes and is in Lawrence. Mesh will be joined in walking-on at KU by HCC teammate Colby Hamel, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman.

Mesh earned second-team NJCAA All-American honors in 2012, connecting on 12 of 15 field-goal attempts, including a long of 47 yards. He also drilled 63 of 69 extra points and boomed 17 touchbacks in 57 kickoffs.

“Michael’s coming here to win the job as our place kicker,” Weis said. “He’s not been guaranteed anything, none of these guys have, but I think he has a very good opportunity for that to happen.”

Weis said recent walk-on tryouts produced eight athletes who would join the team for spring practice, which begins March 5. In order to return in the fall, these players not only will have to meet any football requirements but also will have to finish the semester with a grade-point average of 2.75 or better.

“There’s other guys coming, too,” Weis said. “It’s just I can’t talk about ’em. And there’s some really good players.”

Included in that group is Mishawaka, Ind., running back Michael Whitfield, a 5-11, 190-pound running back who attended the same school as current KU long snapper Reilly Jeffers.

Whitfield, who announced his intentions on Twitter, ran for 1,409 yards and 23 touchdowns on 163 carries in 2012. He also chipped in 405 yards and seven TDs as a receiver and added one kickoff return for a touchdown.

Joining Whitfield as a potential diamond in the rough is long snapper John Wirtel, a 6-3, 207-pound specialist from Chicago.

Wirtel is rated as a five-star prospect by Chris Rubio, a long-snapping guru of sorts who runs camps and clinics for specialists each year.

Here’s the feedback on Wirtel on Rubio’s website:

“Wirtel is ready for the next level,” it reads. “He has great length and a solid frame that could easily put on 30 (pounds). He listens well and is very coachable. Snaps a nice, smooth ball that is on target. He moves well on his feet and his going to be a very accurate/consistent long snapper at the next level. Not flashy, but he doesn’t need to be. Excellent work ethic.”

When dissecting his latest recruiting class Wednesday, Weis pointed to opportunity as the reason for the interest from players without scholarships.

“People can see themselves getting into the mix,” he said. “So even though we might not have a spot, (they’re coming).”


laray1703 7 years, 9 months ago

Matt, I'm sure you meant they will walk-on for the 2013 season in the picture.

Ashwin Rao 7 years, 9 months ago

No... they are just slow in walking, so even though they were targeting for 2012, they reached us for the 2013. :)

yates33333 7 years, 9 months ago

I think it makes sense for walk-ons who might be pretty good to join KU. They should have a better chance of playing at KU than say OU, OSU, Texas, Texas Tech, etc. Of course the same would be true for the powerhouses of other conference and maybe the entire SEC.

jhox 7 years, 9 months ago

I'm a little surprised we got a walk on second team AA place kicker without giving a scholarship. Just goes to show you how little value coaches place on kickers, at least until they screw up. Other than QB, I'm not sure I can't think of another position that is significantly more important. How many games might we have won last year with a kicker who could have been counted on?

vd 7 years, 9 months ago

No doubt about the kicker being the second most important member on a football team. That's why they are the second highest paid position in the NFL, right behind the QB position.

vd 7 years, 9 months ago

With the draft coming up, other then the QB postion, the kickers are the most sought after postion in the draft. That's why they are all drafted so high.

jhox 7 years, 9 months ago

I appreciate your mocking, but my primary point was how undervalued kickers are until you need one. A poor kicker can ruin an entire season (chiefs fans can relate, they gave up Nick Lowry over salary, and lost the first round of the playoffs because they undervalued the kicker and went cheap.) You may have the best roster in the league at every position other than kicker, and that one guy can ruin your season. A great kicker can be a tremendous weapon both in terms of un returnable kick offs and field goal range and accuracy. A good one is certainly deserving of a full scholarship.

You'll also note I didn't say that they were the second most important, I said other than QB it is hard to identify another position significantly more important.

April13 7 years, 9 months ago

NFL kickers are so unimportant that Bill Belicheck once put the franchise tag on Adam Vinaterri.

The reason most NFL teams don't draft kicker more highly is because they don't know anything about the position or how to successfully draft the position. In addition, an NFL team needs only one kicker but they need multiple tackles, linebackers, backs, etc. Teams are forced to put more picks into positions of frequent injury, where depth is required.

On most teams, the kicker is the leading scorer. As KU saw, remove those points and you will lose games.

KGphoto 7 years, 9 months ago

Actually kickers are frequently franchised because of the relatively low salary. Your low-draft-rate argument is good, but it's also because there are so many capable kickers available in the NFL via free agency. Every team in the NFL has a pretty good kicker. Some are better than others but the difference is negligible, and for the most part unpredictable.

Last season Blair Walsh was selected in the 6th round after a terrible senior season at Georgia. The he proceeded to break the Vikings single season scoring record and hit an NFL record 10-10 from 50+ yards. Who knew right? But obviously that is the exception, because if anyone could've predicted his performance (including the Vikings) he would have gone much higher in the draft. Or, perhaps if he hadn't been drafted to a dome team, he wouldn't have had that kind of success.

However a little research shows they could've continued to use veteran Ryan Longwell and still had a good kicking game. 27 NFL kickers hit 100% of their XPs last year, on an average of about 40 attempts. The top 32 kickers averaged about 90% on kicks under 40 yards, and the top 26 guys all kicked over 80% on the year overall. Those are all stats that help you win games.

Every team has a chance to land a good kicker any season they want in the NFL. Through the draft or through free agency. Not so with college though.

I would say the best chance we have of finding a good kicker is volume. And since you can't go out and offer schollies to 5 kickers at a time, you do what you can to improve your odds. In this case it means offering a preferred walk on to compete.

clevelandjayhawker 7 years, 9 months ago

.Last year should be a prime example, we would have easily won 2-3 more games with an average kicker

We went for it how many times on 4th down? Other teams knew we were running "trick plays" and not kicking field goals. And then there are the kickoffs, we had how many touchbacks? Not easy for our defense when the other team start past the 30 and 40 most of the time.

I think when you see a team lacking a quality kicker (ie KU 2012) and seeing how our entire game plan changed, then you begin to see the value in a kicker

vd 7 years, 9 months ago

We would like to know why Badair's grandson, Will, was not offered an opportunity to walk on. Matt, could you check this out for us?

Jeff Coffman 7 years, 9 months ago

I'm a little nervous about this kicker. Maybe I've just seen numbers that seem better.

12 of 15 is decent, but curious the length missed. 47 yards is way better than we have.

However the two numbers that make me nervous is 63 of 69 extra points. That seems like a lot of missed from 20 yards out.

I was hoping for a booming kicker for kick-offs and maybe this isn't his specialty, but 17 of 59, is less than 30%, again better than what we have, but would love to see that percentage higher. Plus if he is a line-driver that could indicate an easier return for kickoff. I'd love to know the stat of starting field position by the opposing team.

Terry N Tom Denner 7 years, 9 months ago

With all the JCC players and a very good 3 star high school kids with a field goal kicker KU has a very good chance to win as many as 6 or more games this season. Has anyone heard when tickets go on sale and will there be another special " Coaches Corner " for 99 bucks a seat ??

rlf 7 years, 9 months ago

tickets are going to be on sale the end of this week/start of next week and yes there is a "coaches corner" special again for $99

Jeff Suther 7 years, 9 months ago

Is anyone else highly unimpressed by those kicking numbers. How the heck do you miss 6 EP?

Jeff Coffman 7 years, 9 months ago

Yep...see my note above. I thought 6 extra point misses was extremely high. I think that would be high for an entire 4 year career.

VaJay 7 years, 9 months ago

Apart from bad snaps, blocked kicks also count as a "missed" EP. Sometimes that can be the fault of the kicker if he kicks it low, but usually its the O-Line's fault.

I guess we need a thorough investigation by Matt on those 6 EP ;)

KGphoto 7 years, 9 months ago

Yeah that's pretty bad. As I commented above, a good kicker (NFL grade) will hit 100% of his XPs on the season. 90% of his attempts under 40 yards, and anywhere from 80-90% overall on the season. I know this is college but you can't be missing more than 1-2 XPs a year.

However, you gotta get some competition into camp because it can be so unpredictable. You have to get them in and hopefully somebody catches fire.

Kman_blue 7 years, 9 months ago

I looked up the stats and 5 out of those 6 missed PAT's were blocked kicks and only 1 was a true miss by Mesh.

It also looks like the average starting position for opponents after kickoffs by Mesh was just inside the 30 yard line on the year last year.

GraniteHawk 7 years, 9 months ago

Not saying it is the reason for every miss but the snap can cause many misses. If the snap is bad, the holder juggles the ball, etc, but the kicker still attempts to get the kick off, it counts against him if he misses. Want to believe that Charlie has taken that into consideration.

NebraskaJayhawk 7 years, 9 months ago

I know I'm late on posting here, but I'm hungry for more football news. I say once all the kickers are in camp, Weis just takes measurements on which kicker owns the largest set of cojones. Because in reality, that's what it takes to be a good kicker.

CrystalJones 7 years, 9 months ago

Walk-ons can sometimes be great surprises. It's not unheard of to have them develop significantly once on campus and even excel in the NFL.

Randy Bombardier 7 years, 9 months ago

Wasn't Jordy Nelson a walk-on at K-State? I am glad to see Weiss leaving no stone unturned.

Jack Joiner 7 years, 9 months ago

I know OU does not have a coach for the kickers, does KU?

Bruce Adair 7 years, 9 months ago

VD----FYI Will Geary was offered a preferred walkon spot with K State and accepted it. He may or may not have been in the mix for a walk on position at KU but He made the decision to accept KSU's offer. Will's heighth is a concern for some teams who prefer taller defensive tackles. However his Dad and older brother are both 6'5 or taller and he wears size 15 shoes. We think he's still growing. Thanks for your interest.

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