GWINN DAVIS MEDIA (copy)

Sophomore kicker B.T. Potter is ready for an expanded role this season at Clemson. File/Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — B.T. Potter will never forget that kick. 

It was the first day of his first fall camp, his first official attempt as a Clemson place kicker. The Rock Hill kid's new teammates were huddled around. The snap came. He winded back his leg. He connected and followed through.

He missed. 

"I was like, 'Dang. That's tough,' " Potter said.

He was afforded time to get better. Potter spent his freshman season as Greg Huegel's backup and as the team's kickoff specialist, nailing his lone field goal attempt and going 7-for-7 on extra points. He finished third in the nation with 79 touchbacks. But he wanted more.

Huegel, a three-year starter, was denied an NCAA petition for a sixth year of eligibility, opening up a battle at his former position. With the season near, Potter appears to have edged out freshmen Aidan Swanson and Jonathan Weitz and senior Steven Sawicki for the spot.

More than anything, the sophomore attributes his fall camp success to a shift in his mental approach.

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"Field goals, it's more of a mind game, being able to lock in and know my process," he said.

Kickers, normally the most diminutive players on the roster, occupy a similar space on a football team to that of long snappers. Successes receive less attention than those of most other players. Failures loom larger.

You don't want to cost your team points by missing a 23-yard chip shot. You want to do your job and retreat to the sideline. Quickly. Quietly. 

Such pressurized stakes require a resilient attitude. And with the starting kicking job up for grabs, Potter refocused his mind. Working with a sports psychologist, Potter said, he went back to the basics, breaking down his process.

"(It was) something I felt I needed to go back to, just, like, knowing what I'm doing every single time," he said. "Focusing on those keys whenever I go to kick."

Now, as he maneuvers through his kicking motion, he keeps his eyes on the right third of the uprights, given that his ball tends to veer left. 

And he's quick to forget his previous kick, no matter the result. That first kick from last year's fall camp? Sure, he remembers it. But it doesn't consume him, and neither do any new misses.

The new mindset has resulted in public praise from Swinney, who said the 5-10, 180-pound Potter converted a 51-yard field goal in practice last week. Potter hasn't only worked on the mental side of the game; he's hit the weights. 

"He's just gotten strong, gotten in the weight room. He likes how his muscles look," Swinney said. "That just develops more confidence and translates to the field."

Potter has long dreamed of occupying his current role. He holds a deep reverence for the Tigers kickers who've come before him. Tuesday, he spoke highly  of Spencer Benton, a Myrtle Beach product who once hit a 61-yard field goal before his Clemson career ended in 2012, and insisted that Huegel, his predecessor, doesn't get enough credit. Huegel went 11-for-16 on field goals and 76-for-78 on extra points last season.

"Greg has helped me grow so much since he's been here, he still does," Potter said. "We talk a lot. I love him. I appreciate everything he does for me."

Potter also grew up watching Chandler Catanzaro, who retired from the NFL last week after a five-year career. The sophomore said he met Catanzaro, a Clemson kicker from 2010-13, at a camp when he was younger, in an interaction that helped springboard his love affair with kicking. 

Perhaps Potter will inspire future generations of kickers this season, which begins next Thursday at home against Georgia Tech.

Standing in a Memorial Stadium tunnel last week, Swinney gushed that Potter had hit the hill on the other end of the stadium with one of his kickoffs. 

Potter was coy when asked to verify Swinney's claim:

"I guess you got to go come to the first game to see."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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