The independent news organization of Duke University

New Duke football kicking game specialists have big shoes to fill

For the first time since 2012, the Blue Devils will have a new kicker and punter

<p>True freshman A.J. Reed is expected to be Duke's starting kicker this year, but senior Danny Stirt is also contending for the job in fall camp.</p>

True freshman A.J. Reed is expected to be Duke's starting kicker this year, but senior Danny Stirt is also contending for the job in fall camp.

In 2016, the Blue Devils have to replace key players like Shaquille Powell and Jeremy Cash who led Duke's program for multiple years. 

But few Blue Devils have impacted head coach David Cutcliffe's program for four years as much as two other graduates—four-time All-ACC specialists Ross Martin and Will Monday.

Martin turned Duke’s kicking game into a strength after it was a weakness before the Solon, Ohio, native arrived in Durham in 2012. During his four-year career, he converted on 89 percent of his 93 field goal attempts, shattering a handful of program records in the process. Although Monday wasn’t directly responsible for putting points on the board, he helped the Blue Devils win the field position battle, ending his career with the highest punting average ever for a Duke punter and one of the top five in the ACC for each of the past four years.

Due to the duo's consistency, the Blue Devils have gotten used to counting on their kicking game, but now Cutcliffe and company are starting from scratch with redshirt freshman punter Austin Parker and true freshman kicker A.J. Reed. 

“You start with talent,” Cutcliffe said. “You can’t just make it happen without talent. Our team tends to have four-year starters. Right or wrong we’ve been able to try and do it this way and it’s generally worked.”

Although the strategy paid off big for Cutcliffe with Martin and Monday, he has yet to name a starting kicker just days before Duke's season opener against N.C. Central. On Tuesday, he said there is an ongoing battle between Reed and senior walk-on Danny Stirt.

Stirt has never attempted a kick at the collegiate level, but has three-years of practice experience under his belt and finished spring practice as the starting kicker prior to Reed’s arrival.

“We’re not finished there,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s really more of a sign that Danny Stirt has done a great job. He’s been around here, very familiar with what we are doing. They both had great days today. I just want to see the consistency that we expect here.”

For Cutcliffe and his staff, ensuring that there is talent at the kicker and punter positions is the product of diligent work in the recruiting process. 

The program scoured the country looking for the best specialists, likely not only basing their top targets on raw talent, but also on who would be ready to come in and make an immediate impact for the program. Parker and Reed are the prized results of that process, and though the talent is present, they face the daunting task of replacing one of the best kicker-punter duos in ACC history.

Parker entered the program last season and had the opportunity to redshirt while working with Monday last season. The Mount Pleasant, N.C., native was ranked as the ninth-best punting prospect in the nation by 247Sports and has earned praise from Cutcliffe as he prepares to enter his first year as the starter. 

“Everyone has to understand how they work in our process. We have a real strict process that Austin [Parker] has been through for a year,” Cutcliffe said. "If a player, a specialist, prepares using every [resource] we have, then I’m going to be okay with the results."

At kicker, the situation is a little more complicated. Unlike Parker, Reed arrived on campus just this past summer and is still getting acclimated to kicking at the college level. Although Cutcliffe could redshirt Reed this season, he said his philosophy is to play kickers right away.

“The reason I don’t do that with the kicker is, number one we need the scholarships, and also, it’s tougher to be a punter,” Cutcliffe said. “We have a true freshman, just like Ross Martin, who is talented enough to come in and placekick.”

A native of Prattville, Ala., Reed was slated as the 13th-best kicker in the Class of 2016 by 247Sports. Although his ranking is not as high as Martin’s was coming out of high school, it is very difficult to judge how a kicker will perform this early in his career. Florida State kicker Robert Aguayo–the top kicker in the nation for multiple years and the first kicker taken in the NFL draft—was ranked behind Martin in the Class of 2012.

Regardless of which kicker Cutcliffe starts this season, you can bet he will have thought long and hard with special teams coordinator Jim Bridge about how best to use his latest freshman kicker.

“I believe in his talent, I believe in his work ethic,” Cutcliffe said. “My theory is this: I watch and work, and I watch their ability to focus.”

Discussion

Share and discuss “New Duke football kicking game specialists have big shoes to fill” on social media.