Stevenson finds the opening on his TD return.
Stevenson finds the opening on his TD return. / Photo by Mario Puente

Thanks to the off week, we decided to switch it up and do a Q&A with former UH kicker Matt Hogan. Here, Matt discusses kicker recruiting and the fair catch rule on kickoffs.

GoCoogs: If you were recruiting a placekicker, what would you be looking for?

Matt Hogan: I love this question!

I think there is an epidemic in college football that coaches believe if you have a big leg then you are a great kicker. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yeah sure, everyone wants the OPPORTUNITY to kick 50+ yard field goals but realistically how many of those do you attempt a year? To give some context: I attempted 6 in my entire four-year career. In college, a kicker makes his money between 20-40 yards out while those in the NFL make theirs being solid from 40-50 yards (if you make it to the NFL, a kicker should be automatic from 20-40).

So when recruiting a kicker I would look for 2 things: an accurate kicker with a straight true ball-flight and somebody who is mentally tough.

1. I want someone who hits a consistent ball every time. I don’t want to see someone who hooks a ball inside the left upright one kick and then pushes it inside the right one on the next. Even if the statistics say he’s 2/2, do you really have confidence they will make the next kick?

I want someone that kicks a straight ball every single time. It can even be a miss, so long as the ball is straight and doesn’t have an awkward hook or push ball flight.

If I see someone miss to the right, then miss to the left, that tells me they are swinging as hard as they can and hoping for the best. I’m recruiting the guy that puts in the work to perfect their craft.

2. My kicker also needs to be someone that doesn’t get down on themselves. They need a short memory: as soon as the ref signals good or no good, he needs to be able to move on to the next kick no matter the outcome. He could be kicking off within two minutes and I don’t want him too amped up and hook it out of bounds. I also don’t want my guy letting one missed attempt snowball into two or three.

A kicker should never be too up or too down mentally or emotionally. You need to be steady to do your job to perfection. Because anything less is unacceptable.

GoCoogs: How has the new fair-catch rule changed the way kickoffs are strategized?

Hogan: The new fair catch rule has changed the way both kickoff coverage and returns are set up.

In my opinion, returners should almost always fair catch it and take the ball on the 25-yard line. The waive of your hand will get you to the 25-yard line every single time (or further if you’re past it).

Now, there are exceptions to this rule: against UNT, Marquez Stevenson returned a kick for a TD and that in that situation he did the right thing. Not because of the result but because the kick was into the wind and had a bad hangtime.

Plus, Stevenson had 20 open yards in front of him.

My returner needs to get the 25-yard line as an absolute minimum. I’m a sucker for guaranteed yards and the way to do that is the fair catch.

Kickoff coverage has changed in the fact that coaches are instructing kickers to kick the ball higher and with more hang time. They want to force the returner into a decision: returners love seeing kicks short of the goal line and will be tempted to return them. That gives the coverage team a chance for a stop inside the 25.

Most returners are not coached up well enough on the fair catch rule, or disciplined enough, to take advantage of it every single time.

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