Columbia - Kickers Adam Crossett and Jeff Wolfert had been failing to reach the end zone with their kickoffs.
Until Saturday morning — when Crossett and Wolfert’s kicks were booming off the tee. Returners backed up into the end zone to corral them.
Crossett knew why. He was channeling KOMU’s “Doppler” Dave Schmidt.
The same thing that sends lazy fly balls into the Wrigley Field bleachers was helping him.
“All the kickers are meteorologists out there,” Crossett said.
Crossett has kicked off for the Tigers since 2004. He had 23 touchbacks in 77 kickoffs last season. But he might need the wind’s help this season if he wants more.
The strategy had been easy for kickers until the NCAA complicated things.
In April it moved the kickoff five yards back, from the 35- to the 30-yard line.
The change will result in more returns and less touchbacks. More hits and less kneel downs. More spectators staying in their seats and less heading to the concession stands.
“It’s really bringing the play back in college football,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Kickoffs have gained more emphasis during practice this year because of the rule change, Crossett said.
Pinkel said he intends to use running back Tony Temple as a returner to jump-start the offense. But Temple won’t see the most action on special teams.
With the offense expected to ring up points, the kickoff coverage unit will be especially busy. Since Tuesday, it has been getting ready.
Pinkel was very active with the group during its first drills. Like a track and field coach, he held a stopwatch, and a whistle dangled from his neck. After he blew the whistle, players started to sprint down the field.
“Full speed ahead when the ball’s kicked,” Pinkel shouted.
While the coverage unit was getting up to speed, Crossett and Wolfert launched the ball toward the end zone on the other practice field. Their kicks landed consistently around the 10-yard line.
Facing more returns, Crossett and Wolfert are focusing on hangtime. They want the ball to stay in the air for almost four seconds. That gives their teammates enough time to rush down the field and hunt down the returner. They are also practicing directional kicks.
Crossett knows he won’t have as many touchbacks year. But he’s not bitter. He has accepted his fate.
“(The NCAA) didn’t really ask me what I want,” he said.
Crossett knows one player who will enjoy the new rule: linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was named the Tigers’ special teams player of the year last season.
“I think he’ll probably relish the opportunity for … getting down and hitting somebody,” Crossett said. “You wish you could have 10 guys out there like that.”
Weatherspoon agrees. He said his favorite part of coverage is “getting to the ball and making them pay.”
If he doesn’t get the returner, Crossett said he would.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve been in the weight room in the offseason, too.”
TEMPLE’S BACK: Wearing a red mesh injury pullover, Temple was participating in practice Saturday but avoided contact drills. During the afternoon, he joined quarterback Chase Daniel in the backfield during 11-on-11 drills. He applauded as the defense was cheering his return. Then he ran into the right flat and caught a pass from Daniel.
FIRST SCRIMMAGE: The Tigers’ first scrimmage will take place at 7:15 a.m. Monday on the practice fields. Pinkel said the coaching staff will evaluate players and release the first official depth chart Tuesday. The team will not practice today.