CLEMSON – Memo from the Grocery Store Kicker: if Clemson’s offense could go ahead and not punctuate every red-zone trip with a touchdown, that would be great.
Listen, it’s not personal. If Greg Huegel’s wish was the Tigers’ command, he’d go 0-for-0 on field goals all year (he didn’t attempt one in the opener vs. Wofford) and just kick a plethora of point-after tries.
Because that’s not within the realm of reality, Huegel – the 2014 reject and 2015 walk-on who’s now Clemson’s starting placekicker – would prefer to tee it up for the 12th-ranked Tigers sometime Saturday against Appalachian State for three points, rather than wait and see how it goes for the first time in Clemson’s ACC opener next Thursday night at Louisville on national television.
Not that Huegel, whose last name rhymes with bugle, will shy away from the challenge if that’s how it unfolds.
“Yes, the environment may make a difference, but in terms of blocking everything out, you just have to focus on the kick,” Huegel said. “Because it’s the same grass, it’s the same uprights, so why overthink it?”
Huegel failed in his bid to make the team last fall. He’d attend home games at Memorial Stadium, and during pregame or halftime warmups, while his friends would chat casually or walk around the concourse, Huegel would watch intently at the kickers, dreaming of his chance someday.
He got it last spring, when head coach Dabo Swinney, who’d later joke he found Huegel during auditions involving a beer can in the Bi-Lo parking lot, made him a walk-on. Then senior kicker Ammon Lakip was arrested in early June for cocaine possession, eventually earning a three-game suspension, and Lakip beat out Alex Spence and Christian Groomes to become the replacement.
Funny story about the relationship between Lakip and Huegel: one night last fall as it was getting dark, Lakip and the special-teamers invited Huegel, who was practicing on the outside grassy fields, to join them in the indoor practice facility.
Lakip taught Huegel some visualization techniques employed by former kicker Chandler Catanzaro, and even coaxed him to add a little yoga to his routine.
Kickers are like quarterbacks: usually, only one can play. When Lakip’s suspension is lifted Sept. 18, and there’s two weeks before the Notre Dame game, the two friends will compete for the long-term position.
“With kickers, competition means you get better and better. I am looking forward to that,” Huegel said. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve met, and if he wasn’t, I don’t know how I’d feel about it.”
Lakip missed three of his four field goals in the Tigers’ first two road games of 2014, crucial miscues in losses at top-ten foes Georgia and Florida State. (Huegel watched those games with friends, pushing couches together in his dorm room.) He’d later settle in to nail 15 of his next 16 tries over a two-month span.
When Huegel had a rough scrimmage this fall, Lakip imparted some of his learned wisdom.
“He explained to me what he changed after that Florida State game,” Huegel said. “He gave me some small pointers that nobody thinks about and that you’re not going to recognize until you’re in the middle of the situation. I put those into effect Saturday, and I feel like it really helped out.”
The Huegel family moved from Pittsburgh to Blythewood, S.C. when Greg was in sixth grade. Huegel came to Clemson for its architecture program, but that conflicted with football, so he chose the sport over the major – he’s switching to construction science.
His older sister attends Clemson, but his big brother, Steve, was briefly a walk-on kicker for South Carolina, backing up future NFL booters Ryan Succop and Spencer Lanning.
Steve, 26, graduated from USC law school in May and awaits test results from taking took bar exam in July.
“Man, it’s crazy. I couldn’t be more excited for him,” Steve said. “It’s funny, because when he was in high school and I would come home during college, he would shag balls for me.”
Studying broadcast journalism in college, Steve would film Greg kicking in slow-motion to help improve his technique. He wasn’t there for Greg’s college debut vs. Wofford, but he will be for the encore vs. Appalachian State, and he’s pondered what will be going through Greg’s mind before a big kick at Louisville.
“I might be more nervous than he is,” Steve said. “He’s prepared, he’s done this 1000 times. If Saturday was any indication, he’ll do just fine. I was thrilled, his first extra point had great height on it and the first kickoff was a touchback.
“He didn’t really look like a 19-year-old walk-on out there, in my opinion.”