Folk, Baugher work to show how alive UA kicking game really is
The NFL's New England Patriots have won two Super Bowls because of one.
Oregon State's football team self-destructed without one.
The kicking game continues to be one of the most influential gridiron weapons available, but for last season's Arizona football team it was nothing more than inefficient, if not a complete embarrassment.
The line: 2-for-11 from 3-point range.
No, that's not another "good" night for former UA men's basketball forward Andre Iguodala, but the combined 2003 output of Wildcat kickers Nicholas Folk and Bobby Gill.
"I try to put that behind me. That was last year," said Folk, who failed to convert on all three of his field goal tries last season. "This year we have a whole new staff, a whole new everything. I'm just trying to make it right this year."
Through just two games this season, Folk's efforts, albeit not record-breaking, have already had an impact. The sophomore product of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley connected on tries of 33 and 35 yards - already matching last season's team total and the only points the Wildcats would put on the board in a 23-6 loss to No. 17 Utah at Arizona Stadium. Folk has also made 11 consecutive extra points dating back to last season.
"We started off pretty well, really well this year," Folk said. "I'm just going forward now. When I'm out there and he puts it down, it's just me and the ball."
"He" is junior punter Danny Baugher, Folk's holder on field goals and extra points. Together the pair will attempt to reinvent to the once-vaunted Arizona kicking game, one that saw former UA great Steve McLauglin win the 1994 Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top placekicker.
The first two full weeks of the 2004 college football season have shown all the good, the bad and the ugly possible when it comes to kicking.
Folk said he sympathizes with kickers like Alexis Serna of Oregon State, a redshirt freshman who missed three extra points, including one to tie the game in overtime, during his first collegiate game, a 22-21 loss to defending BCS national champion Lousiana State.
"I can relate from last year. But thing is, you have to just get over it and be a man about it and keep working hard," said Folk, who attributes a lot of how he's received - success or not - to how hard he works at getting better. "If the team sees you working hard they should give you some respect. After something like that you have to earn the respect of your teammates back, but I feel for the kid."
During the Wildcats' loss Saturday, Utah kicker Bryan Borreson missed an extra-point attempt when he hit the upright, only to kick the ensuing kickoff out of bounds.
Folk attributes some of the recent miscues to kickers simply overthinking.
"A lot of kickers like to aim too much on their extra points," Folk added. "If you start aiming, you're going to screw yourself up from the beginning. I've been taught you kick a 60-yard field goal the same way you kick a PAT."
As for the other side of the coin, Folk said he thinks that while many kickers start with a background in soccer, the lure of playing football professionally is often too great to turn down.
"I've played soccer since I was five. I could have gone D-I and played soccer," he said. "There's money in football in the United States. If you're playing soccer you're making, what, $40,000 a year. Minimum salary in professional football is what, $450,000 a year? That's a big part of it."
Anatomy of a 3-point play
"I spot where I want the ball on the ground, where he should put it down after the snap," Folk says.
"I mark the spot. Meanwhile, while he's taking the steps back, I'll make sure there are 11 guys on the field," Baugher adds. "We only had 10 guys during the first one (Saturday), but we still made it."
While Folk sets up behind his holder and the nine-man offensive line, Baugher, in turn, preps the rest of the team for the snap.
"He'll be yelling the cadence to everyone," Folk says. "I'll get ready, he'll look at me, I'll give him a nod then he'll do his thing to center to get him to snap the ball."
The result: hopefully another point or three on the scoreboard, depending on the situation at hand.
The result if all steps don't operate in full sync: the attempt ejects any which way off the kicker's foot, shanking outside the goalposts or just fluttering away.
A mishap on the pair's third attempt Saturday night, a 35-yard shot that slid wide after a bad hold - "The snap was alright, I just mishandled that one, to be honest," Baugher admitted - is the only blemish of the season so far for the UA kicking game, something Baugher, a place-kicker himself in high school, doesn't expect to happen often, if at all.
"It really is an advantage having kicked before because I know how he likes the ball," Baugher said. "Usually we like it tilted a certain way. I understand more about how to get it how he likes it."
Both players admit that without an actual kicking coach on the team - Folk said only two NFL teams he knows of actually have kicking coaches - they have to prepare themselves before and during the seasons.
Baugher credits his father, Erle, for much of his knowledge. The Phoenix native said the time his dad, who played football at Syracuse before playing in the NFL during the 1970s, spent around the game helped form him as a player.
Folk said he trains during the offseason with former All-American punter and kicker and Lou Groza award finalist Chris Sailer, who preceded Folk at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
"You have to do a lot of coaching of yourself because you know what's best for you," Folk said.