Missouri kickers striving to fill Wolfert's shoes

With the loss of All-Big 12 kicker Jeff Wolfert, the MU football team has three contenders trying to replace one of the best kickers in Tigers football history.
Thursday, April 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 16, 2009

COLUMBIA – There are plenty of positions that need replacing on the Missouri football team heading into the 2009 college football season.

One area of the team that has been overshadowed amid the departures on offense and defense has been special teams, who will have have to cope with the loss of place kicker Jeff Wolfert.

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Wolfert proved to be a dependable element of the Tigers' offense the past three seasons, making 59-of-72 field goals and 185-of-185 extra point attempts in 41 career games. That reliability made the former diver a First Team All-Big 12 player in 2008 and a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award.

Now three kickers are vying to replace Wolfert. And as spring practice winds to a close this week, no clear favorite has emerged.

Tanner Mills is the eldest in the group. Mills is a senior, but he’s only been at Missouri for two years after transferring from Columbia College where he played soccer. Two years after walking onto the football team he has become a possible starter.

Despite being the eldest and most consistent kicker this spring, offensive coordinator and kickers coach Dave Yost said it's too soon to pencil in Mills as a starter.

“There’s experience from being around here for a while,” Yost said. “But really game experience, they all lack that at this time. So that’s probably even for everybody."

The two other contenders, redshirt sophomore Grant Ressel and sophomore Trey Barrow, will remain in the mix heading into fall camp this August.

 “I don’t think it’s gonna be finished until we get into two-a-days and somebody grabs a hold of it and takes it," Yost said.

All three kickers acknowledged that whoever ends up winning the job, he will have big shoes to fill trying to replace Wolfert.

“Everybody knows that’s gonna be a pressure filled situation,” Mills said, “coming in after the best kicker in the NCAA.”

Yost said he thinks that Wolfert’s legacy can help prevent these three kickers from settling on being just good enough.

“I think they’re shooting to be like Jeff Wolfert,” Yost said. “They’re not saying, ‘We want to be as good as an average kicker.’ They want to be as good as the best kicker I’ve ever been around and one of the best kickers Missouri’s ever had.”

The tale of Wolfert's arrival on the football team is part of Missouri lore. Wolfert arrived at school on a diving scholarship, but won the job of starting kicker after earning a spot on the team at an open tryout.

Yost laughed when asked if coaches were hanging around the MU Aquatics Center trying to pluck Wolfert's replacement from the diving well.

“No, we have not been out scouting the swim team or any of the other teams on campus," Yost said. "But any time you find a good kicker you take him.”

There were early rumors of a walk-on from a different Tigers team, though.

“We’d heard there was a golfer that talked about trying out for kicking, and we kinda joked and said, ‘Well sure we’ll let anybody try out,’” Yost said.

Turns out it didn’t happen, but that is fine with Yost. He is confident that he and Missouri's three current kickers will be able to meet the expectations that Wolfert left behind.

“We have the ability to do that, we just have to do it on a day in day out consistent basis, and not let anything get in our way.”

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