TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State football coach Trent Miles has raised the quality of nearly everything involving the Sycamores’ program since his first season in 2008.
The kicking position, however, is one that the Sycamores haven’t had much luck with.
Since 2008, ISU has converted just 22 of 40 field goal attempts. The Sycamores have also missed 13 extra-point kicks.
Kickers have come and gone — Braulio Martinez, Cory Little and Brett Sheldon all had their shot. In 2011, ISU had to turn to fullback Austen Wozniak to kick extra points late in the season after Little quit and then-freshman Tanner Fritschle injured his groin early last season.
Fritschle has recovered and the sophomore from Washington is hoping to solidify a spot that’s undoubtedly been the shakiest the Sycamores have had in recent seasons.
“I’m 100 percent more comfortable. It took time to get used to the speed of everything and obviously to get comfortable with my leg now that it’s healed again,” Fritschle said.
Fritschle got a tough trial-by-fire in 2011. After sitting behind Little in the first half of the season, he got a chance to be the featured placekicker in just one game — ISU’s 46-24 victory over Western Illinois on Oct. 15. Fritschle, already stricken with a groin injury, made just 3 of 5 extra-point attempts.
The only field goal attempt he had in 2011 was at Illinois State on Oct. 22. Down 17-14, Miles had Fritschle — who had not attempted any extra points in the game with his injury — try a 41-yard field goal. It was well short of the mark and the Sycamores eventually lost. Miles said at the time that Fritschle should never have been put in that position in that game.
Fritschle did not attempt any place-kicks for the remainder of the season.
During the offseason, Fritschle healed up and got his timing back. Fritschle said he gained some confidence via his recovery and getting the muscle memory back that all kickers need to do well.
“A lot of it is my leg being healed and having the reps with the snapper and holder. It helps a lot to be able to do that,” Fritschle said. “You do the same thing every time. Regardless of an injury, it’s the same muscle, the same movement, it’s like a golf swing. It’s all muscle memory.”
So far, it’s been a mixed bag in preseason practice for Fritschle and freshman Eric Heidorn. In ISU’s last preseason scrimmage, Fritschle connected from 41 yards on a field goal attempt and missed just one other kick. But there have been practices where he’s struggled and Miles wants to see consistency.
“He’s got a strong leg, he’s a great kid, but he has to be mentally tougher and more consistent. He probably hit every field goal today [last Tuesday’s practice]. Yesterday? Combined, the kickers were 1 of 20 or something. He’s inconsistent with his kicks right now, but he has the ability if he can put it all together,” Miles said.
It isn’t just field goals and extra points. ISU has also had trouble forcing field position on other teams via kickoffs. ISU’s stellar defense often has to defend a short field.
“Two kickoffs came down at the 10 and then one goes through the end zone. He’s got the leg to do that every time,” said Miles, referring to the Aug. 18 scrimmage.
Like many freshmen, Heidorn, a Class 5A All-State kicker at Avon, has struggled to learn to kick without aid of a tee.
“Heidorn is accurate, but he’s got to learn to get the ball in the air a little more and get quicker [on his release]. He’s very accurate from 40 yards in,” Miles said.
For now, Fritschle is the man ISU will lean on to make the Sycamores’ kicking game consistent for the first time in the Miles era.
“I take great pride in what I do. Everyone says I’m just a kicker, but it’s a natural position, it’s needed, and it takes hard work to do what I do,” Fritschle said.
ISU special teams
Projected starters — Tanner Fritschle, K; Lucas Hileman, P; Tanner Riley, PR/KR/H; Donald Spencer KR.
Reserves — Eric Heidorn, K; Richie Dyer, KR/PR; Taje High KR/PR; George Cheeseborough, KR/PR; Michael Mardis, LS; Josh Keyt, LS.
Player to watch — Lucas Hileman, 6-1, 195, Sr..: A year ago, Hileman was strictly an ISU baseball outfielder. Now, Hileman is the All-MVFC preseason punter after averaging 42.2 yards per punt. Hileman has devoted himself completely to football this summer and he feels the preparation he’s had — he didn’t have a preseason in 2011 — is going to make him even better.
Analysis — Hileman has been a revelation as the punter and ISU is hoping one of the projected kick/punt returners can provide a similar surprise in 2012. Tanner Riley is likely to get the first shot at establishing himself. ISU is desperately hoping that Fritschle or Heidorn can solidify the kicking position, both in terms of accuracy on place kicks and length on kickoffs.
— Todd Golden