BOONE — Kickers usually just have one chance to make a game-winning field goal.
The kick is usually set up by two football teams playing nearly 60 minutes of football that can often end in a handful of injuries, blood, sweat and bruises. Sometimes, the kick can be set up by the result of a mistake by one team, or the heroics of another.
Make it and the kicker wins the game. Miss it, especially at a home game, and he is the scorn not just of a stadium, but often times of a community, a college campus or an entire state. If the game is big enough, it’s re-run on football highlight shows, sometimes for years.
And the emergence of social media doesn’t help a kicker get over any miss.
Appalachian State kicker Chandler Staton knows all of this. In fact, he thrives on it.
“I absolutely love it,” Staton said. “I kick 10 times better with that pressure.”
Staton, a junior from Gainesville, Ga., feels the concentration he must attain to kick under pressure helps him make those kicks.
“It’s so much easier to focus when you know the game is on the line when you kick,” he said. “It’s just there. You don’t have to think about focus. It just happens.”
For Staton, making field goals happens more than missing them. Staton has made 20 of his 25 field goal attempts since taking over the placekicking duties at App State. He belted a career-long 53-yard field goal at the end of the Mountaineers’ 27-6 win over Georgia Southern in 2017. It was the longest in the Sun Belt Conference that season and the sixth-longest field goal in App State history.
Staton feels he has a longer field goal, perhaps a 60-yarder, in his leg if called upon.
“A 60-yarder with no wind,” he said.
Weather can make a big difference when it comes to kicking. It makes no difference to fans if weather messes up a kick, especially when the game is on the line.
Kickers are expected to make field goals and extra points regardless if the weather conditions include snow, ice, heavy rain or blistering winds. Staton knows this, but said a good kicker can work through all of that and get off a good kick.
He said it helps to have a good sense of humor, especially with his kicking colleagues.
“In any conditions, we’re not freaking out over it because we’re making jokes on the sideline with each other,” Staton said. “We make it fun, but every one of us can flip that switch. It’s something that’s trained and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in, playing football in college.”
Staton said facing adversity, be it brought on by the pressures of the game or the weather, contributes to the idea of kicking specialists not being real football players. Kickers tend to be smaller than the average football player and tend to shy away from contact.
That’s an image Staton does not want to have. He stays ready for any potential contact by lifting weights and says he is not afraid to make a tackle if needed.
Good or bad, that need has not arisen yet, at least at App State, but it could. Staton was put on the top of the depth chart to handle kickoff duties, so he could be asked to help on making a tackle if the Mountaineers’ coverage breaks down.
Michael Rubino did the kicking off in 2018, but transferred to North Carolina for his senior season. Rubino had 49 touchbacks in 85 kickoffs and was in on two tackles in 2018.
Staton’s lone kickoff in 2018 ended in a touchback. While kicking off at Gainesville High School, all except four of his kickoffs were touchbacks.
Staton made the tackle on the four kickoffs that were returned.
“That’s part of the thing of being in the weight room,” Staton said. “I don’t want that. If you look at me, I try to present myself as having a wide receiver-defensive back look. It’s not the standard kicking look and I don’t want it to be that. I want to kick the (heck) out of the football, but I also want to hold my own when it comes down to something like that.”
One way Appalachian State’s specialists have felt like they are part of the more physical side of the team is the addition of a full-time special teams coach. In prior years, a position coach would also coach the special teams — head coach Jerry Moore used to handle the special teams during his tenure — but current head coach Eliah Drinkwitz hired Erik Link to coach special teams full time.
Staton welcomes the change.
“It’s changed a lot hasn’t it?” he said. “If you remember last year we’d be throwing the ball and sitting around the whole time and now we have our own coach.”
Link keeps the kickers and long snappers busy with the timing of their kicks and keeps an eye on their fundamentals. Link also runs the practices when it’s time to go over kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns and placekicking.
“It was a reality check,” he said. “It was like OK, we’re football players now and we practice. We have a schedule. It’s not like we have to go out and kick a few field goals and then do what you want. Now we have this, this, this and this every day.
“It’s good though. From just special teams in general, it’s been a game-changer because we see what we do wrong day-to-day. I love it. I think it’s awesome.”