If it wasn’t intimidating enough walking onto the field for their college practice on Friday, Penn State’s cadre of freshman kickers had a surprise waiting for them.
At the far end of the Nittany Lions’ outdoor practice fields was a new set of goalposts. And they weren’t the most comforting sight for the group of rookies set to battle for the starting job.
“We put in arena league goal posts in there, and it looks crazy on the field,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “They are so tight, but we’re using that for our kickers. So, you know, aim small, miss small.”
For those who didn’t get a chance to see the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers play during ther run, the arena league goalposts are roughly half the width (9 feet) of their NCAA and NFL counterparts (18 feet, 6 inches). And at 15 feet, the crossbar is also 5 feet higher.
Not that the group won’t be kicking plenty on the regulation posts, too. But Franklin and new special teams coordinator Phil Galiano hope this tactic pays dividends. As much as anything, the Lions need to identify a consistent option on field goals headed into a season that pits them against four preseason top-15 teams.
At Saturday’s team media day, Franklin said kicker was one of his three biggest question marks for the team, along with defensive tackle and linebacker.
Just a few days into preseason camp, the race to replace Tyler Davis looks to be wide open. The lone holdover is redshirt freshman Carson Landis, who booted a 34-yard field goal in the Blue-White Game in April and hit all four extra points he attempted.
He is joined by three true freshmen who just arrived this summer. Jake Pinegar is the lone one on scholarship, though that doesn’t make the Iowa native a lock for the job.
Rafael Checa was a first-team All-Met selection by the Washington Post last fall after going 11-of-14 on field goals with a long of 47 and nailing all 44 extra-point tries.
Hollidaysburg’s Vlad Hilling distinguished himself shortly before arriving when he broke a Big 33 Game record with a 56-yard field goal in the annual all-star contest.
The newest face is Justin Tobin, who arrives with junior eligibility after playing soccer for the past two years at Penn State’ Abington branch campus.
“I think it’s super exciting we have those guys here right now and get a chance to evaluate them,” Galiano said. “And we have a rotation set up that we have them split. Certain guys are on one day and other guys are on the next day.
“Just like every position, we’re going to compete in everything we do. Put them in challenging situations and give an opportunity for those guys to go compete and win the job.”