Every year about this time, thousands of football fans from Knoxville to Ann Arbor start whining because they have seen overwhelming evidence that their favorite team doesn't have a decent kicker. Wouldn't you think there would be a South American or European math major and soccer player on campus who could fit the bill? Or a kicker half as good as Josh Jasper?
Josh, who graduated from Ridgeway High School in Memphis, is at LSU where he set a school record last Saturday by kicking five field goals, including a 51-yarder and a 45-yarder. Every team in the country would love to have him, especially my alma mater, Michigan, whose kickers are one-for-five this season and would probably be worse if the coach's philosophy wasn't "what's the use?" Last week Michigan held open tryouts, hoping to find among its 25,000 undergraduates someone who can kick field goals. What good is a 110,000-seat stadium with $250 million worth of upgrades if you lose to Michigan State or Ohio State or, uh, Appalachian State on a blown field goal?
Which is where soccer comes in. Soccer owned ESPN this summer because of the dramatic World Cup. The athleticism was amazing. One reason games are low-scoring is because players can kick a moving ball 60 yards out of danger, under pressure, with opponents trying to kick them in the shins. So, is that harder than kicking a stationary football 40 yards through the uprights under pressure?
I asked Josh, who played soccer in high school as well as football.
"There's a little different technique, but more than likely if you can kick a soccer ball pretty good then if you put in a little practice you should be able to kick a football good," he said. "There is a little mental game to it, but that's something you have to deal with. A lot of times you can block everything out. But some things are hard to block out, like the crowds at Florida or Alabama."
What makes scholarship kickers screw up?
"It might be confidence or maybe they just have not found their rhythm yet. If they don't find that quickly it can go real bad for them. I was lucky to find that early."
He has not missed more than two in a row in a college game. That was against Auburn.
"I didn't get to try another one in that game. I had to move on and go ahead to the next game. I can see how it would get in your head if you missed two in a row."
My family has known the Jaspers since Josh was a little kid. When he was at Ridgeway, we gave him an old Volvo known as "the duct-tape car" that miraculously got him to school and back for a while. When he makes the NFL I plan to remind him. Or we could do this another way. Ann Arbor is really nice in the fall, and LSU coach Les Miles went to Michigan, and Alabama looks really tough, Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez is on the hot seat, and you get my drift.