New Clemson kicker Lakip doesn't fear pressure, swapping soccer for football

Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip, seen here attempting a field goal against S.C. State, Sept. 7, 2013: "I've grown to love football, and the pressures that come with it. I love the atmosphere at Death Valley; it's about as close as you can get to a professional soccer game." (Dawson Powers/Clemson Sports Information)

Kicking is not a craft of perfect. As utopian as it sounds to receive the perfect snap, hold and kick every time, that's just not living in reality.

Ammon Lakip's reality went wide right in high school, forced to digest the fact his ankles would simply not allow him to pursue the athletic dreams he concocted as a little boy.

Luckily for Lakip, though futbol was no more, football gave him a second sporting chance at Clemson. Now he's the starting kicker, filling large cleats as he succeeds the program's all-time leading scorer.

Not that Lakip's overly concerned with making fans forget about Chandler Catanzaro.

"Personally, I just do me," Lakip said. "I rely on my calm attitude and my strong work ethic, showing up every day ready to compete. I've matured a lot the last few years sitting behind Cat-Man.

"I've always been a bit of a different kicker, given I've only kicked for five or six years."

Lakip started kicking a soccer ball at age 3, and was fielding offers from assorted schools to play collegiately - including Clemson.

His freshman English teacher at Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, Ga., (northeast of Atlanta) suggested Lakip add football on the side.

"I was like, no man, football's boring," Lakip remembered. "But my junior year they didn't have a kicker, so I was like, 'You know what, whatever, I'll do it. I'm not going to take it seriously.' Soccer comes first."

However, during his recruitment, tendonitis in both ankles worsened. Doctors advised Lakip competitive soccer was probably not in his future, not with constant pounding on the pitch. Making 14 of 20 field goals his senior year of high school didn't require nearly as much running.

Former Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz, who also attended Chattahoochee, got Lakip in touch with head coach Dabo Swinney, who offered Lakip a full ride for football - even though Lakip wore a boot on his visit, resting his bad ankle.

"As one door closes," Lakip said, "another one opens."

Three years later, exercising patience while Catanzaro became a Clemson kicking legend (nailing 39 of his last 41 field-goal tries,) Lakip takes over as caboose of Clemson's offensive attack.

Without being overly cocky, Lakip doesn't fear the heat that comes with potential pressure kicks this fall in Athens, Ga., Tallahassee, Fla. or Death Valley.

"I don't think about missing, personally. If I do, I think of it as a fluke, as far as whatever happens," Lakip said. "I kind of love pressure. I feel like I perform better under pressure rather than practice."

In the offseason, as he started hitting the links with his teammates, Lakip read the book "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect," which he found applicable to kicking.

"Golf and kicking are pretty much hand in hand, when it comes to finesse and consistency," Lakip said. "Yes, every snap, hold, offensive line protection may not be perfect, but I know I can do everything I can to make it a perfect kick.

"That's what I've learned from everybody else. You've got to feel like you're the best every day."

Does Lakip think he'd be playing college soccer at Clemson or elsewhere given good ankles? He paused. And pondered.

"You know what? I mean, everything happens for a reason," Lakip said. "But I definitely would have given it a shot, because that's my first love. But I've grown to love football, and the pressures that come with it. I love the atmosphere at Death Valley; it's about as close as you can get to a professional soccer game."

Lakip made a 41-yard try, and missed a 31-yarder, at Virginia last year. He connected on all eight extra points in 2012-13. So he's a bit of an unknown.

"Just ready to see Lakip get to the park," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "There's only so much you can do preparation-wise; at some point you've got to go play.

"Hard to simulate Sanford Stadium. But hey, we'll be ready."

For all those times Catanzaro trotted out for a big kick, Lakip would imagine Catanzaro would suddenly pull up lame and need a replacement. Not in cold blood; to help the Tigers.

"Don't get me wrong, I didn't wish it on him," Lakip said, "but I would be ready to go in there and bang home a winner."

Even in practice simulations, when the defensive line trash-talks Lakip trying to rattle him, Lakip admitted he zones everything out and focuses. That's why he feels he's ready, after the past two years as a backup kicker.

"The team sees you standing around all practice, yeah, it's hard to watch that," Lakip said. "But it's my job to go out there and win games for my team. I embrace that. I love it."