ASU kicker McConnell ninth in nation in FGs

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

LORMAN &045; The misses on field goals and measly PATs from last year are but a memory now.

But like any other seasoned kicker, Alcorn’s David McConnell knows how fragile life can be in his position.

When you’re a kicker, the fate of your existence depends on your foot, and a miss at a critical time could make about as unpopular as the most trash-talking person on the opposing team.

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Perform well in the clutch, and, well, it’s like New England kicker Adam Vinatieri, who the McConnell admires for his kicks that led the Patriots to the 2002 Super Bowl.

&uot;You can say it’s every kicker’s dream, but it’s kind of bittersweet,&uot; McConnell said of Vinatieri’s last-second shots to win both the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl. &uot;It could be every kicker’s dream, but it could be every kicker’s nightmare.&uot;

That’s the life of a kicker. And McConnell, a Columbus, Ohio, native who prepped at Newton County, knows that well. No game brought that home more than last season’s loss at Grambling when he missed three extra points and two field goals in a 41-35 loss to the Tigers.

But now as a sophomore, McConnell is moving past that. His accuracy has improved more, and he’s currently ninth in the nation in field goals per game.

&uot;You’re always dissatisfied with the misses, but I’m doing better than last year,&uot; McConnell said. &uot;I’ve improved over last year. I’m not having as many mental breakdowns as I had in the past. Last year I was just learning as a freshman and not used to the bigger crowds. (Defenders) can run a little faster and jump a little higher. I got used to being a little quicker with my timing.&uot;

And like any other kicker, McConnell will admit he doesn’t look at his stats (&uot;It can either destroy your confidence or build your confidence up too much,&uot; he said.) But he’s tied for ninth in the nation with Samford’s Ty Neil at 1.38 field goals per game, and he’s connected on eight of 12 so far.

Although the Braves got a huge pass at the end of the game from Donald Carrie to Charlie Spiller to beat Southern Saturday, the team wouldn’t have been in position to win it had McConnell not connected on three field goals earlier in the game.

&uot;He’s improved significantly, and he’s done an outstanding job since he’s been here,&uot; said Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas, who coaches special teams units. &uot;This year has been a better year for him in regard to last year. The pressure is a little bit different (for a freshman), being new and being the only kicker (on the team). It puts a lot of pressure on him, and he’s responded very well this year.&uot;

Just as big as his kicks were in the Southern game, the kicking team had breakdowns the week prior against Texas Southern in a 23-20 loss. There McConnell missed one field goal and had another one blocked in the second quarter in what could have been the difference in the game.

But the block wasn’t

his fault, Thomas said, and he just shanked the other one.

&uot;His range has been pretty good,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;We haven’t given him an opportunity to show what kind of range he has, but he will be given the opportunity in the future.&uot;

Most of the opportunities have been short ones, including the three Saturday that were all inside 30 yards. So far he’s hit seven of 10 attempts inside 30 yards and one inside 20 yards with his longest 27 yards out.

His longest attempt &045; a 33-yard attempt at Fort Valley State &045; was no good in his only shot from beyond 30 yards.

&uot;I’ve hit 65-plus in practice, so I have distance,&uot; McConnell said. &uot;It’s the range I need to work on from that far out. I’ve always had a strong leg. In high school I hit 60 in practice, and my longest in high school was 53 in a game.&uot;

McConnell kicks soccer-style, a method he developed first before testing the waters on the gridiron. He played soccer in that Meridian-area soccer hotbed since the age of 5 but didn’t start kicking a football until the 10th grade when an impromptu tryout with the coaching staff got him a spot on the roster.

&uot;I was in soccer in sixth period in school, and we had a new coach come in and ask the soccer team to produce a couple guys with strong legs to come out and kick,&uot; McConnell said. &uot;It was me and two other guys, and they didn’t want to do it. I went out there messing around, wanted to do it and made the team. I went to a couple of camps to get my technique down.&uot;

That’s when McConnell and others noticed his talent. At a summer camp at LSU in 2001 he was rated the best kicker out of 50 campers there, and he was named best kicker at USM camp. At Auburn he was rated fourth out of the 100 kickers there.

So after his time was up at Newton County, coaches were aware of his talent. And they were interested.

Well, sort of.

&uot;The big schools were asking me to walk on,&uot; McConnell said. &uot;But (assistant) Coach (John) McKenzie called me one day probably a month before the signing date and asked me to come down for a visit. I liked what I saw, and they offered me a full scholarship. I couldn’t pass that up.&uot;

Offering kickers a full ride may be a rarity, but it’s the emphasis Thomas places on special teams with the Braves. Punter Shane Phillips &045; McConnell’s roomate &045; is also on full scholarship.

While some of McConnell’s friends questioned why he would choose to play football at a historically black college, he shrugged it off. He may be white, but it’s all about opportunity.

&uot;It’s no big deal,&uot; he said. &uot;My dad was in the Navy, so we were always around diversity. I wasn’t raised to see color. It wasn’t a big adjustment at all.&uot;