The first Red-White Spring Game of Scott Frost’s tenure in Lincoln provided Husker fans with plenty of things to get excited about. However, it also revealed at least one thing for fans to worry about: place-kicking.
Nebraska has had one of the steadiest kicker situations in college football the last few years with Drew Brown holding it down. However, his eligibility is up and Nebraska is left with a pair of freshmen duking it out for the starting job.
In the spring game, redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Frahm hit one field goal from 30 yards out but missed another from 43 yards and also missed his only extra point attempt. True freshman Barret Pickering went 7-for-7 on extra points but missed his only field goal attempt, from 27 yards out.
That was back on April 21, however. On Monday, a few days into fall camp, outside linebackers and special teams coach Jovan Dewitt shared some thoughts on his two kickers. For the kickers, the fall camp kicker battle is a marathon, not a sprint.
“They’re doing a great job,” Dewitt said. “I work with those guys, obviously, every single day and right now, what we’re trying to do is temper how many reps they’re actually getting in terms of full, live kicks. It’s just like a quarterback, you keep a throw count, or a pitcher, you keep a pitch count. You’ve only got so many kicks in their legs throughout the course of camp. We try to make it very much a situational deal for those guys so they’re not just out kicking every single time that they can. So you want to keep their legs as fresh as possible. But those guys have done a really good job in terms of distance and accuracy right now.”
At this point, neither of the kickers has pulled ahead in the race, according to Dewitt.
“Not in terms of place-kicking right now; it’s pretty much wide open, to be honest with you,” Dewitt said. “[On Monday], we worked a little bit on some specialized kicks. It was just an introduction to those guys of where we want placement, to see where the ball was going to go. It’d be hard to judge those guys based on just one day.”
Place-kicking isn’t the only special teams job up for the taking. Nebraska needs a new kickoff specialist as well as Brown handles those duties last year. Dewitt isn’t limiting the battle to just the kickers, however.
“I would tell you that as we exited spring, in terms of kickoffs, [punter] Caleb Lightbourn was probably ahead of the game a little bit, but Barret’s done a really good job in terms of strengthening himself," Dewitt said. "Obviously he’s going to be a little bit limited in terms of his natural stature and size for having the power that you necessarily want, but he’s really elevated what he can do with that.
Pickering is listed at 6-foot and 195 pounds. Lightbourn, on the other hand, looks more like a linebacker or tight end at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. He was one of the most improved players on the team as a sophomore as he figured out enough control and accuracy to unlock his cannon of a leg. That power would serve him well on kickoffs.
“I would tell you right now if you had to put a gun to my head and say that one guy or another, it would probably be Caleb right now, but I’m not telling Caleb that,” Dewitt said.
Regardless of who is in the lead at the moment, the battle for kicking duties has a long way to go. The marathon has only just begun.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.