Mental strength proves most important for MU football kicker

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 | 9:42 p.m. CDT; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 7, 2008
MU place kicker Jeff Wolfert stretches before the start of practice at the John Kadlec Practice Field on Wednesday morning.

COLUMBIA — Every time Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert takes the field, he takes three steps back and two steps to the left.

"When I'm out there, I just try to relax," Wolfert said. "I just picture getting my plant foot down and striking the ball where I want to and keeping my head down. The rest will take care of itself."

It's rare for Wolfert to fail to send the football through the goalposts in a Tigers game. Wolfert, a former member of the MU diving team, has made 151 of his 157 kicking attempts since abandoning a swimming scholarship three years ago to walk on to the football team as a kicker.

"I just focus on hitting the ball and getting it through the uprights," Wolfert said. "I go through my routine as if it's practice."

Last season, he earned an honorable All-America spot from Sports Illustrated and first team All-Big 12 honors from The Associated Press.

Senior wide-receiver Tommy Saunders serves as Wolfert's holder for field goals and extra points and sees up close how Wolfert handles the thousands of screaming fans as well as the opposing team's rush to block the kick.

"He's got a lot of confidence," Saunders said. "I just make sure I know how he wants the ball when I put it down."

When talking about kicking, Wolfert never mentions his leg, only how he mentally prepares for the task at hand. Coach Gary Pinkel says what makes Wolfert one of the best kickers in the country is his head.

"Kicking, just like diving, is an individual sport," Pinkel said. "I'm not surprised he's good because he has the kicking skills, and he transforms that focus and intensity over from diving."

The toughest thing for Wolfert during preseason practice is keeping his legs active. He spends a lot of time walking around, talking with his fellow kickers.

"You want to do less reps so they're more quality than quantity," Wolfert said. "I've done all the reps before. Now it's just fine tuning. I've been here long enough."

After making 21 of 25 field goals last season and not missing an extra point, Wolfert didn't think he had the pressure to improve drastically and instead decided to just keep doing what he was doing.

"I just tried to maintain that confidence that I had," Wolfert said. "Like everyone else, I hit the weight room hard."

Wolfert got his start in kicking when he was young, competing in the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick competition.

"For a soccer player, it was pretty natural," Wolfert said.

In high school, Wolfert — burnt out on soccer — wanted to give placekicking a shot.

"Just being a soccer player, I always did the corner kicks and free kicks so I was always accurate," Wolfert said.

Combine Wolfert's accurate leg with the mental toughness he gained from diving, finishing third at the Kansas State Diving Finals in 2004, and it's not hard to see why many expect him to be a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the top senior place-kicker in the country.

"There's a lot of guys who can kick, but the great ones have it in the head," Pinkel said.


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