Preseason talk was not kind when it came to discussion of the Alabama kicking game. All of the top specialists were gone. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald, snapper Brian Selman, return specialist Javier Arenas, and placekicker Leigh Tiffin. Tiffin had become the all-time best in his Bama career.
It appeared Alabama had gone the recruiting route to fill the voids at placekicker and punter, signing Cade Foster as a placekicker from Texas and punter Jay Williams from Thomasville. But as is often the case in college football, walk-on kickers have stepped up. Cody Mandell (from Louisiana) is a freshman who won the punting job. And Jeremy Shelley, a walk-on from Raleigh, North Carolina, is doing most of the placekicking.
Shelley, a 5-10, 165-pound sophomore, is the senior kicking specialist. Going into this season his experience consisted of kicking the final point in the 45-0 win over Chattanooga near the end of last season. He also missed his only field goal try in that game. Going into this year, that put Shelley 384 points behind Leigh Tiffin’s Bama record for scoring.
And Shelley doesn’t get to do all the field goal and extra point kicking. Foster kicks the long field goals and is also the kickoff man.
Going into Saturday’s game at LSU, Shelley has made 8-11 field goals and 27-28 extra point kicks for 51 points, three behind Trent Richardson for the Alabama lead.
Shelley said the players heard the preseason talk about kicking being a possible weakness. “That doesn’t affect what I’m doing on the field,” he said. “Obviously, they hadn’t see what we were doing on the practice field. That’s not anything we had to worry about or think about too much.”
Shelley admitted to having “a few jitters” starting the season, but said, “as the season has gone on, it’s gotten a lot more comfortable.”
As the most experienced kicker, Shelley said he can draw on his time with last year’s kicking corps, who gave him “something to look at and prepare for. I’ve followed the same footsteps and treat the new guys the way (the older kickers he played with) treated me.”
Shelle said he and Leigh Tiffin became friends when Shelley arrived and that he continues to talk to Tiffin. “He’s always been there to help me through anything, any problems I might have,” Shelley said.
Shelley said the platooning with Foster is fine with him. “It really benefits the team, and we’ve had a really good field goal percentage,” he said. “We’re both making field goals, so it helps the team and gets points on the board.”
The deciding factor is the 25-yard line. If the snap of the ball is from the 25 (a 42-yard field goal) or closer, Shelley is expected to get the call. Longer than that, Foster will likely be called on.
Shelley knows there will be pressure kicks. “In the SEC you have to prepare for that as a kicker because all the games are so close and all the games do have high intensity,” he said. “Most of the time it’s going to come down to a made or missed field goal. All the games are decided by a few points.”
Shelley said the low point of the year came when he missed a fourth quarter field goal of only 25 yards against Tennessee. The ball hit the left upright and bounced back, no good. “But I did come back and hit my career long (42 yards) after that, so it’s been nice to bounce back and not focus on my low moment.”
Like many placekickers, Shelley grew up a soccer player, playing from the time he was three years old and through high school. He started football kicking as a freshman in high school. He was an outside defender on the soccer field and had some college scholarship offers for both soccer and football. He also was an invited walk-on for football at several ACC schools.
“I decided this was the best fit for me,” he said. “I always had a good time on my visits to Tuscaloosa and liked all the coaching staff and players on the team.”
Shelley said he doesn’t have any particular quirks. He does the same thing in his pre-game routine and when he’s on the sideline with the possibility of a kick coming up. “I kick a few into the net, then a few dry runs without a ball. I’m getting my mind right and acclimating to what the situation might be. If we get a sack or if we gain a few yards or if there is an incomplete pass, where the ball will be.
“I’m not too much of a head case when it comes to that.”