COLUMBIA — The 2006 season did not come with a lot of expectations for Jeff Wolfert. The collegiate diver, turned collegiate kicker, got the starting nod and was expected to be consistent enough to not kick the Tigers out of any ball games.
He did that and more.
By converting on all of his 45 extra point and going 18-of-20 on his field goal attempts. Wolfert earned honorable mention All-Big 12 recognition. His effort also got him a spot on the 2007 watch list for the Lou Groza Award, honoring the nation’s best place kicker.
But 2007 hasn’t started off with the production that Wolfert wanted.
Wolfert’s increased leg strength during the off-season earned him the No. 1 spot on the kickoff specialist depth chart.
After two games of consistently good kickoff coverage, the Tigers regressed against Western Michigan. Regular and squibbed kicks broke for big gains that were reminiscent of coverage breakdowns from years past. The mistakes are something coach Gary Pinkel believes begins with Wolfert’s kicks.
“It starts with the kicker, and certainly he’s very capable,” Pinkel said. “The other part is we just didn’t do a very good job coverage-wise.”
As for Wolfert’s place kicking duty, he is adamant in saying that nothing has changed in his mental or technical approach to place kicking.
To him, it has just been a matter of a few feet.
“There’s less margin of error,” Wolfert said. “The kicks I have missed have been off by about a foot so any mistake you make at the point of impact is going to affect you by a matter of feet.”
His coach is quick to his defense, saying that the kicks beyond the 40-yard line are not the easiest to handle for any kicker.
“When you get outside the 40-yard line percentages go down, even in the NFL,” Pinkel said. “He had a little adversity but he’s a competitor and came through it.”
Despite his problems converting kicks from long range, Wolfert is optimistic and has some things working on his side. Although he would never admit to being happy to miss his kicks, the fact that it is happening this early in the season works for him. It is giving him an opportunity to work out whatever faults he think there may be.
“I have been fortunate that the kicks I have missed haven’t been too crucial,” Wolfert said. “I feel like I can learn a lot from the misses and grow from them to be a better kicker.”
And one only has to look back to Wolfert’s progression last season. Following a missed attempt against Ole Miss, Wolfert converted on 53 consecutive field goals and extra points.
He missed a 43-yard attempt wide midway through the first quarter but later Wolfert connected on a kick from 47 yards to close out the first half.
Wolfert might seem like a victim of his own success based on his success from a year ago, but he doesn’t see it that way. His confidence is not shaken and he still expects to make every kick. Just as he expects his performance to only get better from here.
“As the season goes on, I’ll get into more of a groove but it’s kind of hit-and-miss right now,” Wolfert said.