Kickers Column art

One of the most bizarre storylines in an incredibly bizarre 2019 Nebraska football season was the weekly revolving door at kicker.

Sophomore Barret Pickering came in with expectations to hold the position after a strong performance in the back half of his freshman season. However, Pickering picked up an injury before the season and appeared in just three of Nebraska’s games. As a result, the carousel began from opening week with then-freshman Dylan Jorgensen’s first-ever attempt being blocked against South Alabama. 

Jorgensen converted five extra points in Nebraska’s season-opening win, but he never kicked for the Huskers again.

Then it was senior punter Isaac Armstrong’s turn to kick field goals. His stint as kicker lasted two games, going 2-for-5 on field goals in Nebraska’s two games against Colorado and Northern Illinois. After those games, he too didn’t attempt a field goal or extra point for the rest of the season. The pattern repeated with different kickers, the strangest being Air Force transfer Lane McCallum.

McCallum was a kicker at Air Force, but switched to safety when he came to Nebraska. At least, he did until the Northern Illinois game, where he was forced to kick after Armstrong had two field goals and a PAT blocked.

McCallum was the emergency kicker and stepped up in the next four games. His short kicking stint ended with a 25-yard game-winning field goal against Northwestern.

McCallum’s game winner was followed by Pickering returning as starter against Indiana. Over the next four games, Pickering went 3-for-5 but took another injury that kept him out from kicking field goals.

In Maryland, Nebraska tested two kickers with sophomore Matt Waldoch taking the reins. 

Waldoch, who was plucked off of Nebraska’s club soccer team, was the late-season cure to the Huskers’ special teams woes. He went 4-for-4 on field goals over the last two games and hit a 41-yarder against Iowa — Nebraska’s longest field goal of the season.  

The Husker kicking carousel was a historic feat. Nebraska had six kickers who attempted at least one field goal, the most for any FBS team throughout the 2010s.

“Special teams have been a thorn in our sides for two years,” head coach Scott Frost said in an Oct. 13 press conference.

A new kicker every two games is one of the worst ways to help out the position group. Only junior Lane McCallum remains from last year’s kicking group, and he’s converted back to his natural position of safety.  

Now, Nebraska must be careful and not fall into the same kicking carousel trap. Nebraska brought in four new kickers to help remedy this and provide some stability. Two to watch out for in particular include senior grad transfer Connor Culp and JUCO transfer Chase Contreraz. 

Culp transferred from LSU, where he backed up All-American kicker Cole Tracy in 2018 and then-freshman Cade York in 2019. In 2017, he went 11-of-16 on field goals, making eight straight at one point in the season.

While Culp was ranked as the No. 12 kicker in the nation in 2016 and has Power Five experience, he’ll battle Contreraz for the starting spot, who also has a strong resume.  

Contreraz is walking onto Nebraska after two years at Iowa Western Community College. In 2019, he went 15-of-18 on field goals and 44-of-46 on extra points, with his longest field goal coming from 47 yards out.

The two are battling for a spot that will most likely go unnoticed if the kicker position doesn’t turn into a circus. Being a kicker is one of the most thankless positions in all of sports. Making field goals is expected, no matter the length, while misses bring out the worst in some fans.

For Scott Frost, handling the kicker spot will be one of his tougher challenges in 2020. Nebraska’s kicker for 2020 can’t be in a spot where one miss sends him to the bench.

Pulling the kicker quickly signals two things. First, other kickers on the roster will be on a short leash, so one mistake by whoever is next in line would be met with the same consequences as the first.

That can mess with someone, especially a position that relies on confidence and a strong mental state. Second, a threat to the kicker after missing one field goal means that he never had a chance to begin with — a case where the only acceptable outcome is perfection.

That’s not a good environment for kickers, but Frost has shown he can manage the position the right way at Nebraska.

In 2018, Pickering started the season 4-for-8 on field goal attempts. Pickering was struggling and missed a 45-yard field goal against Northwestern that could have sealed Frost’s first win as Nebraska’s coach. Instead, the game went into overtime and the Huskers ended up losing.

Instead of benching his kicker, Frost rode with the true freshman. He rewarded Frost’s decision, making 10-straight field goals to close the season and scoring all points in a snowy 9-6 win against Michigan State.

If Frost had pulled Pickering after that rocky start, the Huskers could’ve faced the same kicking problems in 2018 as they did in 2019.

Now, Nebraska has two older kickers competing for the same spot who have expectations of keeping the position. For that to happen, Frost and the rest of the staff have to stand by the kicker and give him a legitimate chance at success.

sports@dailynebraskan.com