The Hurricanes responsible for scoring the majority of last year’s touchdowns — quarterback Jacory Harris, running back Lamar Miller and wide receivers Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin — are all gone.
All summer long the next crop of Miami playmakers has been competing to fill the spots left by the departed veterans.
With these losses in mind, it might come as a surprise that the player who scored the most points for the Hurricanes last year is still on the team. That’s right, kicker Jake Wieclaw is back and, according to coach Al Golden, the redshirt senior from Illinois could be in for a big season.
A lot of players on the offense put up big numbers during last week’s scrimmage. But the fact that the plays occurred with the ball often being moved up to the red zone meant that the resulting statistics — including 15 touchdowns — had to be taken with more than just a grain of salt.
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The same is not the case for Wieclaw’s performance in that scrimmage. Wieclaw made both of his field goal attempts that day, scoring from 51 and 56 yards away.
Golden called the 56-yard kick “phenomenal.”
“He’s stronger, he’s quicker, he’s in great condition and he has got confidence right now,” Golden said. “The ball was on the 39 and I said, ‘Jake, go!’ And he just banged it.”
The 56-yarder was the longest the redshirt senior had ever made in a scrimmage or a game.
Wieclaw said the two kicks were a testament to the months of practice that he, long snapper Sean McNally and holder Dalton Botts had been putting in.
“Something like a 56-yard field goal should be a little bit shaky, but the operation was smooth and it was exactly the way we had been practicing all summer,” Wieclaw said.
Becoming more consistent with his long kicks has been a primary focus of Wieclaw’s since last season, he said. In 2011, Wieclaw was perfect from short range, making all 39 extra points and all eight field goal attempts that were from a distance of 39 yards or less.
The 40-yarders are where things got more hairy, though, as Wieclaw made attempts from 41, 43 and 49 yards, but missed on ones from 40, 41 and 47 yards away.
If he can continue to be more consistent from long range, it could give the Hurricanes offense more options. Last year Miami did not attempt any 50-yard field goals.
“It was exciting, a sign of things to come,” Wieclaw said of his scrimmage performance. “I think we might be in situations in games where we’ll have opportunities to kick long field goals.”
Wieclaw emphasized that in order for these long kicks to happen, timing — and not just the strength of his right foot — will be the key.
After the graduation of Chris Ivory, last year’s long snapper, the kicking unit will now be in the hands of redshirt junior Sean McNally, who joined the team last year after transferring from community college.
McNally said Wieclaw’s mentorship this past spring was invaluable in terms of getting comfortable with the team.
“Jake really helped me out by calming me down and making sure I knew what I needed to do,” McNally said.
Each practice Wieclaw estimates he and backup kicker Matt Goudis each take between 30 and 40 snaps from McNally or his backup, A.J. Highsmith. They practice “quality over quantity” and might stop early if their kicks are going especially well.
Still, Wieclaw acknowledges that neither practice nor a scrimmage can replicate the pressure that comes from playing in front of a huge crowd.
That pressure, Wieclaw said, does not really bother him, at least compared to other things.
“Personally I get less nervous in front of 60,000 people on a football field than I do talking in a classroom in front of 20 people,” he said.
So far in his Miami career Wieclaw has been faced with the ultimate pressure test, a last-second field goal, just once. He passed.
That test came last season when Miami was tied 3-3 with USF. As time expired Wieclaw converted the 36-yard field goal to give his team the win and himself the highlight of his career.
“The South Florida game is a memory for life now,” Wieclaw said. “But it’s something you can only experience to understand.”
Miami Herald Sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.