Duke coach David Cutcliffe is putting in extra time on his team’s kicking game this month after the unit’s dismal performance in 2016.
Last season as a freshman, kicker A.J. Reed made only 3 of 10 field goals, which left Duke with the worst field-goal kicking success in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
On Saturday night, Duke’s kickers were at Wallace Wade kicking field goals, extra points and kickoffs during the team’s first scrimmage of the season.
Four kickers are vying for playing time – Reed, graduate transfer William Holmquist, freshman Jack Driggers and sophomore Austin Parker.
“I’m not disappointed in any of them,” Cutcliffe said.
Here’s a breakdown of how they are doing so far, based on what they showed Saturday night and conversations with coaches about their play in practice since July 31.
The walk-on graduate transfer from Tufts has impressed in his two weeks on Duke’s team. Even though it’s at the Division III level, he has far more experience than any other Duke kicker.
Holmquist made three field goals during the regular scrimmage portion Saturday. Two were beyond 40 yards, including a 47-yarder, while another was from about extra-point distance of 20 yards.
“I took a longer look at Willie,” Cutcliffe said. “I knew the least about him, in some regards, but I’m also pleased with him.”
Last season at Tufts, Holmquist made 8 of 11 field goals and 28 of 31 extra points.
Those three missed extra points last season appear to be a red flag. But Tufts coach Jay Civetti said weather and field conditions were a factor. The grass field at Tufts had to be replaced after the season because it was in such bad shape.
“I’m not going to give him that excuse,” Civetti said. “But, believe me, there were other factors at play.”
When Holmquist came to Duke, he was so impressed with Wallace Wade Stadium’s lush grass and the pristine field conditions at Brooks Practice Facility, he took photos and shared with his family online.
Still, he knows missing an extra point won’t cut it if he wants to win Duke’s job.
“Our grass field certainly wasn’t the quality that it is down here,” Holmquist said. “But that’s no excuse. From 20 yards away, you are supposed to make it. I’m sure they are expecting that and more, especially at Division I and particularly after how the kicking game went last season. The focus is on 100 percent.”
Parker is handling the punting while also kicking field goals and extra points. He emerged from spring practice as Duke’s No. 1 kicker before the walk-ons arrived on campus.
Parker averaged 40.9 yards per punt in seven games last season as a freshman. He suffered a broken clavicle on Oct. 14 against Louisville which limited his playing time.
Now healthy, he’s in line to be Duke’s main punter. Cutcliffe said he’s not afraid to use the same player as punter and placekicker if that player proves to be the best the team has.
Parker split his field-goal attempts during the scrimmage.
“I think Austin has been making headway,” Cutcliffe said.
Reed is working to repair his confidence and regain the coaching staff’s trust after his nightmarish freshman season.
He’s looked good at times in practice this season but badly missed a field-goal attempt wide right during the Saturday night scrimmage.
Last season, Reed kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Notre Dame 38-35 last September in South Bend, Ind.
He remains in the running. But he faces an uphill battle to win his old job back.
A freshman walk-on from Tallahassee, Fla., Driggers has the strongest leg of the kickers. He handled the kickoff duties during the scrimmage and every indication is he’ll have that job at the minimum when the regular season arrives.
Driggers had opportunities to join South Carolina and Oklahoma as a walk-on kicker this season and also had scholarship offers from Army, Elon, North Texas, Nevada and Chattanooga before opting for Duke.
He attempted one long field goal in the scrimmage, from beyond 45 yards, and left it short.