Commentary: Confidence on Dean's Side in Kicking Job Battle


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - One swing of Jad Dean's powerful right leg sends a football flying nearly the length of the field.


Soaring high as it travels, the ball - seen from ground level - for a moment seems to hang in the sky before beginning its descent. More often than not the player who catches Dean's long-distance serve either chooses to remain in the end zone, or finds himself surrounded by orange jerseys as he decides which way to escape.


Most times, there is no escape.


Such was Dean's impact on Clemson's special teams a year ago. As a true freshman out of Greenwood, the strength of Dean's right leg won him the kickoff job the day he walked onto campus. It was his to lose, head coach Tommy Bowden said, and for a full season no one took it from him.


It was due in large part to Dean's thunder that Clemson's kickoff coverage went from one of the team's weakest units in 2002 to among its best in 2003. His 27 touchbacks were impressive enough, but it was his consistency which made Dean such a weapon. Because his kickoffs were routinely so deep, the average starting field position for an opposing offense was its own 23-yard line.


Now, one year later, Dean is still booming kickoffs at will. But he's also trying to win another job.

Dean wants to be the man to replace four-year starter Aaron Hunt as the Tigers' new place kicker.


But so does walk-on Stephen Furr, who has engaged Dean in a fierce battle for the job this preseason. Bowden's daily updates on the race have ranged from Dean being slightly ahead to both kickers coming in dead even.


Now, with less than two weeks to go before the Sept. 4 opener with Wake Forest, the intensity of the race grows daily. But Dean shows little, if any, signs of wilting under the late August sun.


"I'm trying to kick to the best of my ability," he said. "If I don't win the job there's nothing I can do about it. I've done everything I could."


Don't misunderstand Dean's intent here.


He isn't approaching the situation with a devil-may-care attitude. Far from it.


Instead, the calm outer demeanor hides a confidence - almost cockiness - that all good kickers must have to survive. It's the nature of the position, a job which can see a kicker standing on the sidelines doing little for 59 minutes and 57 seconds of a game.


But in that final :03, all he's expected to do is deliver victory to 85,000 bloodthirsty fans - not to mention 104 other teammates, many of whom ultimately have a much greater say on the outcome of a game each Saturday.


But it is the kicker who stands alone on an island, and because of that Dean and many like him are forced to overcome bouts of self doubt. The great ones do it early. Some with great talent never do at all.


Listening to Dean, you get the idea self doubt won't be the reason he does or doesn't win the kicking job.


"I don't worry about all that stuff," Dean said. "The coaches know I'm good from 60 or 65 (yards away)."


What they haven't known, at least until this fall, is how good Dean can be from 45 yards and in. A powerful leg is a luxury to be sure, but if the power isn't supported by accuracy it's no good to anybody.


Part of the problem Dean dealt with for nearly a year was adjusting to kicking off the ground in college, rather than the ball being place on a block as it was throughout his high school career.


Some kickers make the adjustment easily. Others struggle.


Dean was in the "others" category for quite a while, he admitted recently. But now, his second preseason camp winding down, Dean appears to have defeated the mental opponent.


Now all he has to do is outperform Furr. Bowden said the job will be won by the kicker who shows the most consistency - making the most field goals under pressure within the proper get-off time.


As he fights the battle, Dean has reduced the opponents to just himself, the ball and the uprights.


Nothing else is allowed to intrude on his psyche.


"I've been kicking well and that's all I can ask for," Dean said. "I'm not trying to worry about (Furr), because if I start worrying about him that two people's kicking I have to worry about. As a kicker you don't want to worry about other people.


"I just concentrate on my kicking, and I've been kicking well. The competition's only going to make us better."


Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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