The Special(ist) Mailbag 1: Aidan Schneider on toughest kicks, superstitions and NBA potential
The co-host of The I-5 Corridor podcast debuts his new monthly column.
Aidan Schneider is from Portland, kicked for Oregon and is now a marketing manager is his hometown. He co-hosts The I-5 Corridor podcast and is now adding to the website with a new monthly mailbag. To celebrate, Aidan’s debut is free.
Take it away, Aidan.
What was your most nerve-racking kick? — David
This question has two answers for two very different reasons.
The first is the most obvious: The first kick of my collegiate career.
If you ask around, kickers will tell you that no matter how well you warm up, the nerves don’t really go away until your foot hits the ball for the first time in the game. If you’re lucky, you win the coin toss and get it out of the way on the first play. If you’re not, it might come at halftime or even not at all.
Yes, I remember Nebraska 2016, too.
My pre-college football experience included a grand total of 15 games and 30 minutes of practice a week when I would run down the hill from the soccer field for special teams periods, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t brimming with confidence heading into Week 1 when I was thrust into a starting role due to injury.
It felt like I had won a contest to play one game with the Ducks and that this would be my first and last game. I had to keep reminding myself to have fun.
We won the toss and started fast, scoring on a long touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Dwayne Stanford inside of two minutes. Taylor Alie ran in the two-point conversion with yours truly lined up in the slot.
Then came the kickoff. Those were my biggest weakness — outside of lining up out wide — and my first at Autzen came from my own 20-yard line thanks to an unsportsmanlike penalty.
The kick wasn’t great, but the feeling of relief that washed over me as I ran back to the sideline more than made up for it. I had played in a D1 college football game - something nobody expected, least of all myself.
The second answer involves a little bit of history. That same season we were matched up with Stanford and I was riding a high — I kicked my first collegiate field goal the week prior against Cal. I was playing then due to injury again, but managed to hold my job coming into the game against the Cardinal.
I had no expectations of myself earlier in the season but now that I had won the job and earned the right to play there was a lot more on the line.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little added pressure because of the venue and the opponent. I wasn’t the biggest football fan growing up, but I knew enough to know that an Oregon kicker wearing No. 41 lining up for a kick against Stanford at Autzen in November didn’t conjure up the best memories for Ducks fans.
I could hardly think about anything else when I went out to attempt a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter. I kept thinking about what would happen if I missed and if the fans would ever forgive me. But once the ball was snapped there was no time to think and I hit it right down the middle. I blacked out the moment of the kick but heard the roar of the crowd and my teammates coming over to congratulate me. That night was the first time I thought: Maybe, just maybe I belong here.
As a kicker, did you have any rituals/superstitions? — Gus
Kickers use all sorts of different methods to get themselves ready to play and to help promote focus. I didn’t have any rituals or superstitions because I knew that if I let myself get into that mindset I would obsess about it and it would get in my head. I helped myself stay focused by keeping my mood light and playful on gameday.
Playing a football game as a kicker isn’t very physically taxing, although our offense put this to the test with sometimes double-digit kickoff counts. The challenge is mental and I found that the more I was able to step back, relax and laugh with my teammates, the better I was able to focus when it was time to kick.
As my good friend and former Oregon long snapper Devin Melendez said, “We’ve got the best seats in the house,” and we took advantage of that every week. Being locked in for four hours can be exhausting, so we’d crack jokes, embrace the atmosphere and watch the real athletes play.
Aidan, can you shine a little light on what the experience was like being a college kicker — were you on scholarship? Were there other kickers on scholarship? Was there competition each week, etc. Thanks! — Corey
I was a preferred walk-on for my first two years and was able to earn a scholarship by the end of my sophomore season. Schools generally have one to two kickers on scholarship at a time and another two or three who walk on depending on the year, so the competition is usually pretty stiff.
Walk-on life can be hard, especially as a kicker. The school hasn’t invested significant resources into you the way they have with the scholarship guys, so naturally opportunities are more limited for non-scholarship players. I got the chance to play early in my career due to injuries, and because I didn’t win the job outright there was competition every week.
The competition forces you to bring your A game every day because you know that there’s a capable guy ready to take your spot if you slip up.The competition is often more of a mental exercise than a physical one. Kicking is a black and white job. You play, or you don’t. You make it, or you don’t. Every kicker is chasing perfection but the key to success is the ability to embrace failures as they come and not be too emotionally invested or try to analyze every little thing that goes wrong. Sometimes it’s just not your day. That’s ok.
Why do you think Oregon has had so much success with walk-on kickers and so little success with scholarship kickers? Similarly, what changes would you make to recruiting for specialist positions? — Tyler
Kicking is an inexact science.
At every other position, talent can manifest itself in physical appearance and numbers. Potential can be identified, and a program with great player development can take raw talent and mold it into a polished final product.
The reality is that most collegiate programs don’t have a kicking coach on staff. Special teams coordinators are often coaching another position group and have too much on their plate to learn the ins and outs of kicking technique. The lack of attention leads to an increased reliance on outside coaches and recruiting databases. This system can work but is not necessarily foolproof — as evidenced by Alabama. The recruiting prowess of Nick Saban consistently pumps out dominant teams filled with the best talent the nation has to offer, so you’d think that would be the case in the kicking game too, right?
Since 2010, Alabama has converted only 72 percent of field goal attempts (189 of 264), ranking them in the top half of the SEC in field goal percentage just three times during the period. Recruiting the right players matters, but emphasizing the kicking game is just as important — in practice, in scrimmages and in games.
Don’t go for it on fourth down when you don’t need to.
Bring your kicker out to let him get some reps and some confidence.
It will pay off in the end.
Would you rather be 6-foot-11 with your current basketball skill set or add 5 yards to your kickoff field goal and kickoff? — Jonas
This is a tough one that I spent a while thinking about and my answer might surprise some people. Despite what some people might think (including most of my teammates in college,) I actually have a pretty solid basketball game. I’m going to have to bet on myself here and make a run at the NBA. Some of the free agent contracts that have been flying around are just too good to pass up.
— Aidan Schneider