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April 25, 2012

Huskers, 'Noles have leg up in Kicker U. race

What makes a quality kicker?

Leg strength obviously is a must. Mental toughness is equally essential.

And judging from Nebraska's success, versatility also plays a major role.

Nebraska has two kickers currently in the NFL: Josh Brown of the St. Louis Rams and Alex Henery of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cornhuskers also produced former NFL kicker Kris Brown and currently have one of the nation's top college kickers in Brett Maher.

KICKER U. 2012
Our choice: Nebraska.
Who they've sent: Josh Brown (St. Louis Rams), Alex Henery (Philadelphia Eagles)
Who's next: Nebraska kicker/punter Brett Maher heads into his senior season as the No. 3 kicking prospect in the 2013 draft class according to the Web site nfldraftscout.com.
Why we picked them: Brown is a nine-year NFL veteran who has made over 80 percent of his career field-goal attempts, while Henery set an NFL rookie record for field-goal accuracy last season.
Other finalists: Florida State (Washington's Graham Gano, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski), Georgia (Buffalo's Brandon Coutu, New Orleans' John Kasay), Washington State (Detroit's Jason Hanson, Buffalo's Rian Lindell).
PUNTER U. 2012
Our choice: Tennessee.
Who they've sent: Britton Colquitt (Denver Broncos), Dustin Colquitt (Kansas City Chiefs)
Who's next: It's too soon to tell whether current Tennessee punter Matt Darr has any pro potential. Darr averaged 38.1 yards per attempt as a redshirt freshman last season to rank 10th in the SEC in punting.
Why we picked them: Britton Colquitt set a Broncos franchise single-season record in gross punting average (47.4) and net punting average (40.2) last season. He also landed 33 punts inside the 20-yard line to rank second in the league in that category. Dustin Colquitt has been the Chiefs' regular punter since 2005 and averaged a career-high 45.9 yards per attempt last season.
Other finalists: Ball State (Cleveland's Reggie Hodges, Cleveland's Brad Maynard), Iowa (free agent Jason Baker, Detroit's Ryan Donahue)
Here's something else they have in common: None of those guys was exclusively a kicker in high school.

"One thing about kickers that have made it at Nebraska, they've all played another sport or have been kind of a star athlete," Henery said.

Henery played soccer as well as football at Omaha (Neb.) Burke High School. Josh Brown was a running back, safety, punter and kicker as well as a two-time Class A state champion high jumper at Foyil (Okla.) High.

Kris Brown, a quarterback and kicker at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High, played on consecutive Class 3A state championship teams in 1992 and 1993. Maher was a wide receiver on his football team, an honorable mention all-state baseball player, a state record holder in the pole vault and a state champion in the long jump at Kearney (Neb.) High.

That experience at multiple positions or multiple sports helped prepare each of them for the pressure situations that inevitably arise for a college kicker who has to attempt a field goal with a game on the line.

"I think that's real big,'' Henery said. "As a kicker in football, you're kind of by yourself. Working with a team mentally in another sport would help someone out who was going to become a kicker, I think. It definitely helped me out.''

Henery, a fourth-round draft pick last year, went 24-of-27 on field-goal attempts in 2011 and set an NFL rookie record with his accuracy rate of 88.9 percent. He connected on each of his last 16 field-goal attempts.

Josh Brown is a nine-year NFL veteran who has made 80.9 percent of his career field-goal attempts, including nearly two-thirds of his tries from at least 50 yards out (28-of-43).

The versatility of Nebraska's kickers gives them one advantage. The Midwestern climate also might help them out. Henery and Maher both come from Nebraska high schools, while Josh Brown comes from Oklahoma.

That gave them plenty of experience at kicking in all types of different conditions.

"Nebraska's a tough place to kick," Henery said. "You get used to a lot of different winds and temperatures and stuff like that."

Nebraska wasn't the only school that had two first-team kickers in the NFL last season. Florida State is the alma mater of Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski and Washington's Graham Gano. Washington State has produced Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions and Rian Lindell of the Buffalo Bills.

All three schools also have outstanding kickers on their current rosters. Florida State's Dustin Hopkins was one of three finalists last year for the Lou Groza Award given annually to the nation's top college kicker, while Washington State's Andrew Furney and Nebraska's Maher were among the 20 semifinalists for the honor.

Then again, Washington State hasn't really been a training ground for NFL kickers lately, as Hanson was drafted in 1992 and Lindell began his NFL career in 2000. For that reason, the competition for Kickers U. developed into a virtual toss-up between Nebraska and Florida State. Keep in mind that for the purposes of this project, we only took into consideration players who were active as of 2011. Kris Brown is a former All-Pro who made 252 career field goals from 1999-2010, but the ex-Cornhusker didn't play in 2011.

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Pass rushers
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
April 25: Kickers and punters
First, let's compare the two veterans. Although Janikowski is generally regarded as having the league's strongest leg, Josh Brown actually has the slightly higher career field-goal percentage - .809 to .796. Of course, Brown also has benefited from playing in a dome for most of his career.

Now, let's take a look at the current kickers at both schools. Hopkins is rated by the Web site nfldraftscout.com as the No. 1 kicking prospect in the 2013 draft class. Maher is the No. 3 kicking prospect in the 2013 class according to nfldraftscout.com. Maher went 19-of-23 on field-goal attempts last season, including 3-of-6 from at least 50 yards out. Hopkins was 22-of-27 overall and 1-of-3 from at least 50 yards away.

In the end, we gave Nebraska the slightest possible edge because we think Henery has a brighter future than Gano, even though Gano has a couple more years of NFL experience. Gano has made 73.8 percent (59-of-80) of his career field-goal attempts.

While the kicking position provided us with perhaps our toughest decision, choosing Punters U. wasn't nearly as difficult.

The honor goes to Tennessee. Frankly, we may as well just give it to the Colquitt family.

Dustin Colquitt averaged a career-high 45.9 yards per punt last season in his seventh year with the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft. Colquitt is the older brother of former Tennessee punter Britton Colquitt, who averaged 47.4 yards per attempt with the Denver Broncos last season. Britton Colquitt's net punting average last year was 40.2, while Dustin's was 40.1.

The Colquitts are the first set of brothers to punt in the NFL at the same time since George and Wes McAfee in 1941. They have a cousin, Jimmy Colquitt, who also punted for Tennessee and played for the Seattle Seahawks in 1985.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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