Will Vandervort: Jad Dean looks back at a great year
In life, there are always days when it seems nothing is going right. The same can be said for what life is like in the game of football, especially if you’re a kicker. Clemson’s Jad Dean, who is among three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which will be presented tonight on ESPN during the Home Depot College Football Awards show at 7 p.m., has experienced such days.
During the spring, head coach Tommy Bowden routinely mentioned Dean’s inconsistencies to the media and even mentioned he was considering opening up the place kicking duties had Dean not corrected his mistakes. To top off the spring, the Greenwood native was used as the punch line for several on-line jokes after Dean was used as one of three models for Clemson’s new uniforms.
“At the time, all that really got to me and I got mad about it,” Dean said from his hotel in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday afternoon. “It was a difficult experience in my life, but I used those experiences to make me stronger and do go out and prove to people what I can do.” And boy did he prove it.
Dean came within one field goal of tying Clemson’s single-season mark with 22 successful kicks. He never missed a kick less than 30 yards and he was 11 of 16 from 30-plus, including 5 of 8 from 40-49 yards. In fact, Dean is a perfect 17 of 17 in his career from under 30 yards.
“Obviously, I know what I can do,” he said. “And I know there is still a lot I need to do. There are things I can improve on. I’m going to do my best to make sure I’m the best kicker I possibly can be.”
It isn’t uncommon to hear Dean be so hard on himself, Bowden said he is own worst critic.
“He is extremely hard on himself,” said Bowden. “He pushes himself and I think he is harder on himself more than I am.”
Dean has always been hard on himself, even dating back to his days as a high school kicker. But his dedication to constantly improve is why he has become one of the top kickers in the country.
During his senior year at Greenwood, Dean connected on 42 of 43 extra points and was 9 of 12 on field goal attempts. Fifty five of his 66 kickoffs that year were not returned.
“Before the year, I always set my goals to be perfect,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, then I adjust my goals and try to at least make 90 percent of my kicks.”
Dean is perfect when it comes to making game-tying or game-winning kicks under a minute to go. He made the game-winning kick with two seconds to go against Texas A&M to open the season, and made two tying field goals – one to force the first overtime and another the third overtime – against Miami.
Against Texas A&M, he made a school record and tied an ACC record with six field goals in the Tigers’ 25-24 victory. Even more impressive, the game-winner came from 42 yards out.
“I never envisioned having this kind of year,” he said. “I’m glad I did because now I have put my name out there where people will put me up there as one of the top three kickers in the country and that can only help me reach my ultimate goal of kicking in the NFL.”
Dean finished the regular season third in the nation in field goals made per game (2.0), sixth in the nation in kick scoring points per game (9.0) and is tied for 18th overall in scoring (all positions). He also ranks 12th in the nation in career field-goal percentage among active players (77 percent).
This year, he has made 22 of 29 field goals (76 percent) after making 80 percent in 2004 (12-15). He was also tied for first in the ACC in scoring with 9.0 points per game. He was a perfect 33 for 33 on extra points this year.
“I definitely couldn’t ask for more,” Dean said.
The only other thing he could want – the Groza Award.
“I definitely would love to win it, but Mason (Crosby of Colorado) and Alexis (Serna of Oregon State) also deserve it. It is just an honor to be selected as one of the best kickers in the country,” Dean said.
Weather he wins the Groza or not, Dean says he will do everything he can next season to keep his reputation as one of the top kickers in check, and also to make his last season at Clemson a memorable one.
“It has all just flown by these past three years,” he said. “Either way, I’m not going to get complacent. I’m going to work just as hard if not harder to get even better than I was this year.
“I still have a lot of goals out there to accomplish, like career field goals, scoring marks and things like that. I want to accomplish all that I can so I’m going to work just hard to get better.”
In the meantime, Dean wants all of those who were laughing at him at the beginning of the year, to realize who is laughing now.
“It all works out in the end,” he said. “Who’s laughing now? They’re all up there where it is turning cold, while I’m down here where it is warm going for an award at an awards show where Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the best in college football are being honored.
“Yeah, it all worked out for the best.”