Isaac Armstrong Was "Next Man Up" at Kicker Against Colorado
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Isaac Armstrong Was “Next Man Up” at Kicker Against Colorado

September 10, 2019

Injuries are a part of football, but those injuries don’t often happen to a team’s kicker. However, that is the situation Nebraska special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt finds himself in heading into week three of the season as starting kicker Barret Pickering’s status remains up in the air after missing the first two games.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen; I’ve never seen this before,” Dewitt said on Tuesday. “We go through plans of how many reps they’re going to take on a week-to-week basis, how many reps they’re going to take on a daily basis. We make sure they get warmed up beforehand. We do anything possible. It’s like a pitcher’s arm: they have a kicking count and we don’t exceed it, we’ve never exceeded it. It’s just one of those situations where you almost feel snakebitten. When it rains, it pours sometimes. But it is what it is and we push on through it.”

True freshman walk-on Dylan Jorgensen handled all the kicking responsibilities against South Alabama in week one, converting all of his extra points and having his only field goal attempt blocked.

Last Saturday at Colorado, however, the Huskers went in a different direction as starting punter Isaac Armstrong handled the extra point and field goal attempts while back-up punter William Przystup took the kickoffs.

“We put those guys in a bunch of different competition situations and Isaac came out on top of that competition,” Dewitt said. “Like I tell you guys every week, it’s always a competition every week and so it just happened that we ended up going with Isaac this week.”

Armstrong kicked in high school at Lincoln Southwest but wasn’t the starter there until his senior year. But in order to find the best guy for the job, the coaches opened up the competition in practice last week and brought in Armstrong and walk-on safety Lane McCallum, a Norfolk native who kicked in high school and at Air Force before transferring to Nebraska.

Armstrong won the battle.

“I was like, ‘All right, I’ve been in this situation before, I’ve kicked field goals before.’ Obviously it was a while back but I do have that experience,” Armstrong said. “I really was excited going into it because I had been kicking the ball pretty confidently at the end of the week and in warmups I was kicking the ball confidently.”

In addition to a strong day punting, Armstrong converted all four of his extra points and made his first field attempt, a 26-yarder. However, his last attempt from 48 yards — down three in overtime — did not go so well.

“I thought he did a pretty good job, to be honest with you,” Dewitt said. “That was a tough situation for a guy to be in — first time competitive kicking like that for field goal, and then he punted it really well. I think we averaged like 45.6 [yards] on a punt.”

The kick never had a chance and sealed Nebraska’s 34-31 overtime loss in Boulder. Armstrong said he was “pretty miserable” after the play.

“I think he was crushed,” Dewitt said. “I think anybody in that situation that’s competitive is really upset by it. But we went over to make sure that we told him that’s a tough deal, that’s a tough situation. The thing that I like about Isaac is he doesn’t sit there and complain about it. He went out there with no fear of failure and whether it went through or not, he gave it his best shot and that’s what we ask everybody to do in any given spot is desire to excel and no fear of failure. I think he embraces that and I think he would relish a shot to do it again.”

Armstrong may get that shot again this week against Northern Illinois. Dewitt is leaving the competition open again, and Armstrong is preparing as if he’s going to win it.

“It’s been a while since I’ve worked with the entire operation with the snapper and the holder,” Armstrong said. “It’s something that you don’t necessarily forget how to do, you’ve just got to knock the rust off so with time I think that will happen for sure.”

Armstrong said he didn’t begin really working on the full operation of the kick — including long snapper Chase Urbach and holder Noah Vedral — until Thursday of last week.

“The more time that I spend with Chase and Vedral holding, the smoother the whole operation will go,” Armstrong said. “We only had a couple days to work as an entire unit. That’s no excuse for what happened, but as we have a whole entire week to prepare, it’s going to smooth out.”

Armstrong said Pickering is one of his best friends and has been staying in his ear, offering advice and correcting his technique when necessary.

Armstrong was at the top of the depth chart when Nebraska released it on Monday and Pickering was absent, but Coach Scott Frost said to not read too much into that. The huskers aren’t ruling out a return fro Pickering this week. Dewitt said he’s been doing some light kicking this week and last as he works his way back from an undisclosed injury.

The kicking situation is far from ideal, but regardless of whoever is taking the kicks on Saturday, the next man up mindset applies.

“I think there’s always a level of concern when there’s going to be one or two guys that may have gotten dinged up over the course of the season and camp so that’s always going to be a big concern for us,” Dewitt said. “We’re always trying to rep and see who can come in next. You’ve got to have the next man up attitude; if you don’t have that, then it’s going to be perilous.”

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