Not much seems to keep David Cutcliffe up at night. 

Duke’s head coach endured many roadblocks and ugly seasons in Durham before bringing the program back to national relevance. During those times, tasked with rebuilding one of the nation’s worst teams that also happened to have some of its most stringent academic standards, the level-headed Birmingham-bred football guru remained steady and confident in his vision for the program.  

But last year, one thing was very hard for him to stomach: his kicking game. Freshman kicker A.J. Reed made just one field goal longer than an extra point all season long, effectively eliminating kicking as an option by the last few games of the year. 

No team in college football was worse at kicking than Reed and Duke.  

A year removed from that nightmare, Cutcliffe was forced to import two new faces at kicker and call on his punter to fill the void, leaving a four-way competition between Reed, Austin Parker and newcomers William Holmquist and Jack Driggers for placekicking duties.   

“If a guy drops his head, if a guy stumps his toe, I’m looking at everything we’ve got because I will have a hard time living the way I lived last year,” Cutcliffe said. “I occasionally had acid reflux, and I don’t want it worse, if that’s fair.”  

Cutcliffe said Tuesday that Parker will be the starting kicker, with Holmquist as the No. 2 option, though he said it would still be an ongoing competition between the two—the depth chart lists Parker first, but says “or” Holmquist.   

“I believe in my heart that we will be better,” Cutcliffe said. “I'm not afraid of kicking either one of them in a game.”  

Heading into the summer, Parker was listed as the lead candidate at placekicker after hitting a career-long 47-yarder in high school. But he can do more than just kick field goals—Parker arrived at Duke as the starting punter last season and is still competing with Driggers for kickoff duties.  

The redshirt sophomore was lost for the season midway through 2016 due to a broken clavicle he sustained against Louisville, but in seven games, he averaged nearly 41 yards per punt and will return to his starting gig this year. 

“Austin’s a gifted athlete, [and we] just want him to [be] healthy,” Cutcliffe said. “If you look at what he did as a punter a year ago before he got hurt, he had a really outstanding year going, but his punting, even net punting, so hang time and all of that stuff, we’ll see where it is.”   

Cutcliffe also added freshman Jackson Hubbard as a kicker and punter recruit this offseason, and he got a few chances to punt in an Aug. 12 scrimmage, but Parker was the more consistent option. 

The 2013 National Coach of the Year has made clear, however, that the competition remains tight between Parker and Holmquist. 

One of the new faces at kicker, Holmquist is a graduate transfer from Division III Tufts who certainly made an impression in the Aug. 12 scrimmage, connecting on all three of his field-goal attempts.  

A strong-legged kicker who has connected from 48 yards in games, Holmquist is partially deaf and relies on hearing aids to communicate off the field.  

But since 2015, he has not worn them on the field, instead looking to the play clock to time his kicks.

“I’m kind of just in my zone,” Holmquist told the News & Observer in early August. “When I take them out, it’s my signal that I’m ready to go.” 

The Fuqua School of Business student connected on 21-of-31 field goals at Tufts and also punted, averaging nearly 37 yards per punt.   

Hank Tucker

Tufts graduate transfer William Holmquist contended for the starting job in fall camp after a solid career at the Division III level.

With all of the new faces, Cutcliffe now has much more depth at the position than he did last year, when Reed was the only kicker he trusted to trot out on the field. 

 “The best part of it is there’s flexibility,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got an amazing amount of depth. It doesn’t stop with those two, but there’s where I had to focus at the end of the camp, on those two.” 

Reed certainly had a memorable moment last season, nailing the eventual game-winner against Notre Dame from 18 yards out, but will need to be much more consistent if things go awry with Parker and Holmquist and he wants another chance. Cutcliffe now also has Driggers, who connected on 17-of-28 field goal attempts in high school and certainly has a strong leg—he logged 35 touchbacks in 42 kickoff tries. 

Like the competition that occurred at other positions, Cutcliffe says it will ultimately motivate his players to perform better.

“Competition creates hunger. In every position, you've had to play well to stay where you were on the depth chart,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s been more movement on the depth chart than we’ve had in the past, which is good. And it’s not fake, it’s real. Anybody in their right mind that’s been around here should be hungrier after a 4-8 season.”  

Hank Tucker and Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.