University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes’ odd couple turning into special pair

Kicker Michael Badgley, left, and punter Justin Vogel expect to start this season.
Kicker Michael Badgley, left, and punter Justin Vogel expect to start this season. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

One is a quiet 6-4, 208-pound, straight-laced junior with a crew cut and a father who played linebacker in the NFL.

The other is a talkitive, 5-11, 180-pound redshirt sophomore nicknamed Jersey Mike, who showed up to the start of fall camp with a mullet and three stripes shaved into the sides of his head.

By all accounts, punter Justin Vogel and kicker Michael Badgley are the epitome of an odd couple.

But their emergence from walk-ons to full-time special team starters filled huge holes for the Miami Hurricanes last season, and now they are not only exuding confidence themselves, coach Al Golden is feels the team’s kicking situation is in good hands.

That’s why he rewarded Vogel — whose father Paul played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Oilers — and Badgley with scholarships at the end of last spring, and why both are pretty much locked into jobs moving forward.

“You know, it was tough at this time last year,” Golden said. “We didn’t know we weren’t going to have Matt Goudis. We were hopeful he was going to return. But it didn’t materialize. All of a sudden we were left with three spots — kickoff, field goal and punt — that we were trying to fix. It feels a lot different right now.”

Vogel, a 21-year old transfer from Florida, earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference Third Team honors last season. UM improved from 19th to 13th nationally in net punting (40.5 yards) behind Vogel, who only had 16 of his 52 punts returned last season. He forced 20 fair catches and had 21 punts downed inside the 20.

“Voge is quiet but steady and self-assured, like quietly self-assured. He just goes about his business,” Golden said. “What he does, from a coverage standpoint, you can hit the 60-yarders, but they’re hard to cover. What he does is he hangs them up and so there’s not a lot of return. Wherever the ball lands, it’s net. So he’s good at that.”

Badgley, a former quarterback, running back, and return man in high school, was 14 of 18 on field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards. Two of his four field goal misses were from beyond 50-yards. He also missed four of his 38 extra-point attempts. Badgley shanked one and had a couple of others blocked.

Golden said Badgley, who kicked a 58-yard field goal when he played at Fork Union Military Academy’s post-graduate team in 2013, always “embellishes where his line is in pregame” and tells Golden that “‘I’m [good] from 152 [yards] this way, and 95 [yards] into the wind.’”

That kind of exaggerated confidence, though, doesn’t rub Golden the wrong way. It makes him chuckle. So too did Badgley’s new haircut when camp opened.

“I kind of it did for a good laugh from the team,” said Badgley, who went with the three-stripe look in honor of the team’s switch from Nike to Adidas. “I guess everyone really likes it except Coach Golden. He doesn't really say much. He just comes over and smiles about it.”

The one area Golden didn’t do a whole lot of smiling last season was on kickoffs. The Canes ranked next to last (127th out of 128 teams) in net kickoff distance (54.5 yards per kick) after ranking 14th (63.13 yards per kick) in 2013 with Pat O’Donnell, who now punts for the Chicago Bears, handling those duties.

Vogel averaged 62 yards on kickoffs and had 18 touchbacks on 58 attempts. Badgley averaged 55.68 yards per kickoff and had just five touchbacks on 19 kicks.

“We definitely, me and Mike, kind of underperformed last season as far as what we know we can do on kickoffs,” Vogel said. “This summer me and him worked real hard, pushed each other every day. We don't know who is starting it yet, but every day we're competing, charting everything.”

Golden said he the kickoff competition will eventually be won by whoever can boot the ball through the end zone the most. He prefers touchbacks to what happened last year when the Canes surrendered a ton of field position, including a game-changing kickoff return for a touchdown in the season-opening loss at Louisville.

Golden said improved depth should also free up tired starters from having to handle tackling and blocking duties on kickoff and punt returns, something he had to resort to last year because of how poorly UM’s young players handled those situations.

▪ Badgley was in a yellow non-contact jersey at Tuesday’s practice and hasn’t practiced with the team since last Friday’s scrimmage. Golden said Tuesday he’s simply giving his kicker a little time off to rest his hip and expects him back Thursday. Sophomore walk-on Jon Semerene, a former kicker at Cypress Bay High in Weston, is around to provide depth if needed.

As for other special team jobs and position battles:

▪ Redshirt junior Frank Gabriel and Jordan Butler are sharing the long-snapping duties. “Those guys are mature, a lot more poised than it was a year ago for those two guys, so I’m pleased with that,” Golden said.

▪ Sophomore Nick Linder, redshirt sophomore Hunter Knighton, and redshirt freshman Joe Brown are competing for the short-snap duties.

▪ Vogel is leading for the holder job, but redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Rosier is also getting a look.

▪ Junior Stacy Coley handled most of the punt and kick return duties last season. With Phillip Dorsett gone, Joseph Yearby, Artie Burns, Herb Waters, Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis are competing to be the other return men on kickoffs alongside Coley.