HUTCHINSON, Kan. - While both Northeastern A&M and Hutchinson Community College have been paying attention to developing a starting quarterback for Saturday's 7 p.m. season opener at Gowans Stadium, the emergence of a bonafide kicking game could be more important to both coaching staffs.
For the first time in two years, NEO head coach Rob Green must find a replacement at both punter and placekicker. Jeremy Knott (6-4, 180, of Tulsa Union) transferred to North Texas State University in Denton.
Knott ranked fourth in the nation and led the Southwest Junior College Football Conference in kick-scoring with 70 total points. He kicked 34 of 36 extra points and 12 field goals with the longest being 46 yards. Knott recorded 44 punts for an average of 35 yards in nine games.
During his two-year career, Knott is NEO's all-time leading field goal kicker by connecting on 19 of 32 attempts while ranking second in kick-scoring with 110 total points.
“We've worked hard Sunday and Monday with our kicking game,” NEO head coach Rob Green said. “Since we're relying on two freshmen, it's very important that we know what we're doing going into this first game.
“While I was pleased with our kicking game in last week's scrimmage at Coffeyville, we were still a little inconsistent,” Green said. “Until these freshmen get the stars out of their eyes and realize the difference in kicking at this level, we could struggle.”
Freshman Nicholas Walters (5-10, 185 of McAlester) will handle the punting chores. Walters averaged over 40 yards per punt as a senior for the Buffaloes
Assuming the placekicking duties is freshman Matt Berrey (6-0, 190 of Purcell).
“I personally recruited both of these guys,” Green said. “They didn't just walk-on, so I know what they are capable of doing.”
Hutchinson Blue Dragon head coach Rion Rhoades has also been privy to an interesting competition at placekicker.
Last year, options at placekicker were so limited that coach Rhoades ended up giving the job to walk-on T.J. Hipsher, who was plucked from the student body after some classmates talked Hipsher into trying out after the first game of the season.
Hipsher, a Topeka native, had a solid season considering he had not kicked in nearly two years.
He made 3 of 4 field goals and 13 of 14 extra-point kicks while nursing an injury to his left, non-kicking leg.
Battling with Hipsher for the job this year is former Hutchinson High standout Kelly Roberts, who sported one of the state's most powerful and accurate legs.
“It has been a very good competition,” Rhoades said. “T.J. has really worked on his leg strength, especially on kickoffs because he knew he had to get better from last year. And Kelly is a talented young man. Right now, Kelly's probably ahead in the two-man race, but we'll let it play out.”
Asked if it was possible to keep both Hipsher and Roberts on the 55-man roster - which Rhoades said would be announced probably by Thursday - Rhoades said not likely, especially with redshirt freshman Clinton Stein being the punter.
“It's probably not going to work out to keep them both,” Rhoades said. “We can't keep three specialists.”
Norse notes: The first weekly meeting of the Golden Norse Booster Club will be noon Wednesday in the Bruce G. Carter Student Union Ballroom. Admission for the luncheon is $5 per person at the door. Coach Green will introduce members of his coaching staff and discuss the Hutchinson game.