Clemson had its share of issues in the kicking game in 2017 and ended up bringing in a walk-on in the middle of the season as it searched for some consistency.
The Tigers finished last year having made 12-of-19 field goal attempts but were only 7-for-14 on kicks of 30 yards or more.
Clemson also missed four extra points last season as Alex Spence was up and down after starting kicker Greg Huegel suffered a torn ACL during a practice in September.
But with Spence gaining confidence at the end of last year, Huegel’s recovery going well and a U.S. Army All-American kicker set to arrive on campus this summer, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney believes Clemson’s kicking struggles are a thing of the past.
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“It’s going to be a beautiful thing. Are you kidding me? After what we just went through this year it is going to be phenomenal,” Swinney said, smiling. “Greg’s back kicking some. He’s doing some one-step type kicking thing. Spence is the best he’s ever been. It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do for you. He feels like he can’t miss right now. It’s going to be fun to watch in camp. And then we get BT (Potter) in here; BT is a special talent.”
Huegel is likely the favorite to win the kicking job if he can return to his previous form.
The former Blythewood kicker was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2016 and a second-team All-ACC selection. He made 14-of-19 field goal attempts that season and finished with 37 touchbacks.
He was 2-for-4 on field goal attempts last season before being injured by a teammate during a kick at the end of practice. Huegel called the incident “a freak accident.” The senior expects to be 100 percent this fall.
“I had my doubt a little bit whenever I was first starting to rehab and I was like, ‘OK, there’s no way I’ll be able to get back.’ There’s always those doubts in the back of your mind,” Huegel said. “But as soon as you push through it, confidence comes back. My knee feels a lot better now, and now that I see the growth from whenever I first hurt my knee to this point, it’s been five months and I have five months until the season. There’s nothing but room for growth.”
Huegel has had to learn to be patient during this process, but now that he is back kicking, even if he is just able to take one step, he can see the finish line.
He recently started back kicking real footballs again after spending some time only being able to kick Nerf footballs. He described that experience as “weird.”
“It was weird because you kind of have the feeling but it’s not as heavy as a normal football, but then, you can’t really see like, ‘Oh, OK that was good contact.’ ... Like, no it wasn’t. It was a Nerf ball. You really have no idea,” he said, laughing. “I’m happy to feel the normal ball on my foot again.”
Huegel will be even more thrilled when he is able to start going through his normal kicking routine again.
“I’m feeling good. At this point, I’m just taking it a day at a time, ready to get back out there,” he said.