After Duke’s heralded senior kicker failed to deliver last year at Wallace Wade, an 18-year old freshman will look to restore the Blue Devils’ confidence in its kicking game in their 2012 season opener against Florida International Saturday night.
Freshmen kickers are rarely the gem of a recruiting class, but Ross Martin is an exception. A 5-foot-9 newcomer from Solon, Ohio, Martin appears poised to raise the Blue Devils to new heights in the kicking game, an area that was Duke’s downfall last season. As a senior at Walsh Jesuit High School, Martin was named a first team All-American by both USA Today and Under Armour. He committed to Duke before his senior year, turning down offers from Texas, Ohio State, Northwestern and five Ivy League schools.
Martin will debut alongside redshirt freshman Will Monday, who will serve as both the team’s punter and holder this season. Although Duke’s execution on punts was not nearly as costly as its inefficiency on field goals in 2011, head coach David Cutcliffe said he has been impressed by the special teams units throughout training camp.
“[Martin and Monday] are playing positions where it’s impossible to be perfect. Those guys just have to be the best they can be in their preparation,” Cutcliffe said. “What I love about [them is that] I have never had any that have done better in their ability to focus in their practice time. They’re never out there just kicking or punting just for the heck of it.”
Entering last season, the field-goal unit was supposed to provide consistency behind Duke’s lone preseason All-American selection, redshirt senior kicker Will Snyderwine. After connecting on 21 of 24 field goal attempts in 2010, Snyderwine struggled with injuries during his senior season. He connected on just eight of 17 field goal attempts and was the only FBS kicker eligible for postseason awards who failed to convert more than half of his attempts for the season. Snyderwine’s easier conversions proved to be his most difficult. He made just three of seven field goal attempts between 20 and 29 yards.
Snyderwine’s miscues proved costly for the Blue Devils, who finished with a 3-9 record and lost four games by one touchdown or fewer. In those four losses, Snyderwine missed five field goal attempts, including three in Duke’s 14-10 home loss to a ranked Virginia Tech squad, a game that could have been a critical upset for the Blue Devils. Had three of those four one-score defeats gone the other way, Duke would have earned its first bowl bid since 1994.
The unraveling of Duke’s All-American showed the mental burdens associated with kicking in college football. After watching Snyderwine’s implosion a year ago, Cutcliffe said it was important to keep in mind that Martin is still young and inexperienced and may have to work through some growing pains as the season progresses.
“My team and myself will live with whatever the results may be, but [with] Ross, there will be a lot more good than bad,” Cutcliffe said. “He hopefully has a long, good career in front of him.”
Despite the immense pressure associated with his new job, Martin has maintained his composure throughout Duke’s preseason scrimmages, connecting on field goals of up to 48 yards in live action.
Duke hopes that Martin will leave as many points as possible on the scoreboard, not on the field like his predecessor did.