In his sophomore season, Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker has a simple goal for the season.
“Don’t miss any kicks,” he said.
As a freshman, Butker was 10-for-14 on field-goal tries and 53-for-54 on extra points. He had two makes from 49 yards and another from 45. His four misses were from 30, 39, 42 and 43 yards.
“I think my leg’s gotten a lot stronger, but I’m just really confident going into the season,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot of work in the offseason, so no missed kicks, really.”
If Butker can even get in the neighborhood of his ultra-high standards, it will have been a remarkable season.
Butker worked extensively this summer with snappers Sean Tobin and Tyler Stroebel and holder Ryan Rodwell. It’s Rodwell’s first time holding for Butker. Punter Sean Poole handled the job last year.
“Ryan’s doing an excellent job of holding,” Butker said. “I mean, I worked with him a ton this summer. He’s really wanted to do well. He’s pushing himself. He’s almost looking at himself harder than I’m looking at the holds, and our snappers obviously have a great work ethic.”
Butker’s success depends heavily on Tobin and Rodwell, obviously. His confidence in them at this point will figure heavily in how confident he is taking field goals once games begin, to say nothing of their actual execution. Special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski challenges all three in a drill in which Butker takes 14 kicks out to 47 yards and the entire operation – snap to kick – has to take 1.25 seconds or less.
Last Monday, Butker made all 14, and each met the time standard.
“I trust him,” Rychleski said of Butker.
Rychleski’s approach to kickers is hands off. He’ll work on the mental side and watch Butker’s steps, but that’s it. He said he guaranteed that Butker could outcoach him on kicking mechanics.
“I’ve been around enough great kickers,” he said. “You can overcoach kickers. If you think you know what you’re doing, that’s the scary thing.”
Part of Butker’s approach is to take every kick, extra-point or 55-yarder, the same. He said he fell into approaching kicks differently according to their distance. With greater strength and improved technique, he said his range, with no wind, is 57 yards. When he was 14-for-14 last Monday, an accomplishment which required Rychleski to do 25 pushups, they went double-or-nothing from 60 yards. With a slight wind behind him, Butker said he just missed.
(It was similar to a drill he did at the start of camp, when he made five kicks in a row, the longest from 52 yards, to reduce the team’s conditioning runs. A video of the kick and the ensuing celebration made SportsCenter. Said Butker, “That was pretty crazy. That was more attention than I thought I would ever get, really.”)
Butker has another goal to eliminate out-of-bounds kickoffs and increase his touchbacks. He put four kickoffs out of bounds last season out of 73, a total he called “not acceptable. That’s awful.”
He also had 30 touchbacks, a 41.1 percent rate, which was 49th in the country. With seven more touchbacks, he would have been in the top 25.
He called the switch from Dave Walkosky to Rychleski was a big transition – Walkosky worked only with special teams, while Rychleski coaches offensive line, so he leaves the specialists with quality-control coach Tim McGrath for most of practice.
“That’s been good,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”