Ben Hartman said the most nervousness he
has experienced as a field goal kicker at East Carolina wasn't before he
drilled the 39-yarder that produced a dramatic 34-31 win over North
Carolina earlier this season.
was a conversion kick in a 20-17 win at Southern Miss last year when he
was a redshirt freshman. Hartman had won the kicking job for the week in
competition with Robert Lee. The Pirates had trimmed the Golden Eagles'
lead to 17-16 with just 13 seconds left in regulation on a 2-yard run by
quarterback James Pinkney.
"After J.P. scored that touchdown, I
was more nervous on that extra point than anything," Hartman said. "When
I got back there, the goal posts looked a mile away. The distance to
those poles looked like forever."
Hartman successfully survived that
moment and added a 19-yard field goal in overtime that provided the
Despite his heroic boot against the Tar
Heels 12 days ago, Hartman is again involved in competition to determine
who will trot onto the field this week at Milan Puskar Stadium in
Morgantown, WV, in those all or nothing placekicking situations.
Hartman, sophomore transfer Matt Dodge
and redshirt freshman Murphy Paderick are competing for the job because
Pirates coach Skip Holtz is understandably concerned that Hartman has
hit just 2 of 6 attempts this season. His four misses are from 37 yards
and closer, a range where college kickers are expected to connect.
Charlie Brown doesn't do much worse
than that in the Peanuts comic strip with his uncooperative holder.
Hartman's team of snapper Wilson Raynor
and holder Joe Sloan have been very efficient this season, but Hartman
has suddenly become ECU football's equivalent of former St. Louis
pitcher Rick Ankiel, whose accuracy from the mound became extremely
Holtz realized something had to be done
after Hartman pulled a 27-yarder wide left on the Pirates first
possession in an eventual 28-21 loss to Southern Miss last week. Any
momentum from the UNC-Chapel Hill victory seemed to slip from the
Pirates' grasp at that point. ECU recovered eventually to outscore
Southern Miss 21-0 in the third quarter but Hartman didn't get a chance
to atone other than extra points as he did for his three previous
misses against the Tar Heels.
"I think we need to get more consistent
because two out of six field goals is not acceptable, especially when
all but one of the kicks have been inside the 20 (line of scrimmage),"
Holtz said earlier this week. "If a player at another position performed
in such a way, we would make a change."
Punting hasn't been ideal either,
according to Holtz, as the Pirates have clearly struggled when putting
the foot into the football.
"Matt's average punt looks good on
paper but we have benefited from the ball rolling," Holtz said. "If
people start catching those, we are in for a long day. I would rather
have the 40-yard punts instead of a mix of 30 and 50. Ultimately, we
need to put that competition into our practice so that we can find out
who will be ready to play against West Virginia."
The Mountaineers are 3-0 this season
and are ranked No. 5. The Pirates need for all systems to be functioning
at peak efficiency as they venture into a venue where they are 0-11
The competition this year is different
for Hartman, who moved ahead of Lee on occasion in 2006.
"Instead of me being the hunter like I
was last year, I'm the hunted," Hartman said. "They're coming for me.
It's my job to lose."
Former Pirate kicker Kevin Miller,
ECU's career scoring leader with 287 points on 52 field goals and 131
conversion kicks, was at practice on Tuesday and provided a voice of
experience for Hartman to heed.
"I worked with Kevin Miller yesterday
and it's pretty much come down to we're just gonna throw out all that
other like rigmarole that whole critiquing here and there and all
that stuff," Hartman said. "Just go out and kick the ball.
"So much of that analyzation goes in
and out. You just need to go out there and have fun."
Like Miller, Hartman enjoys golf.
Miller is basically a scratch player. Hartman shoots in the mid-80's.
New staff addition Vernon Hargreaves is
special teams coordinator but Hartman said Hargreaves' knowledge of
kicking is limited. A student assistant actually supervises the ECU
booters in practice. Don Yanowsky handled ECU's special teams last year
but he left to join the staff at Boston College.
Tom Taracani of Pennsylvania-based
Fourth Down Sports is the guy who Hartman relies on for technical
The most basic thing that Hartman
focuses on when kicking is seeing the ball. Kickers can no longer use a
rubber block to kick from in the college game. The ball is spotted
directly on the playing surface by the holder and Hartman aims for the
bottom white line around the pigskin, which is about three-fourths from
the top of the ball when it is spotted by Sloan.
"Watch the ball is pretty much the
biggest thing," Hartman said.
At the south end of Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium, Hartman focuses on a light pole about 40 yards beyond the goal
"You look at the uprights and try to
hit that target," Hartman said. "I try to hit the light pole."
At the north end of the stadium which
is bordered by the Murphy Center, Hartman lines up on the emblem on the
netting which is raised on placekicks.
"They've got that Allstate thing now,"
he said. "I try to hit right above it or try to put it above the net."
Hartman said following the North
Carolina game that the impact of his winning kick had not sunken in at
"To be brutally honest, it's really
never sunk in," Hartman said on Wednesday afternoon. "I expect myself to
come through in situations like that. My job is to put it through the
sticks and I struggled throughout most of that game. When the team needs
me, I do my job."
Hartman missed one left from 30 yards
on his first attempt against the Tar Heels. Then he connected from 33
yards. He missed right from 32 yards and was no good after hitting the
left upright from 37 yards before ending the game with his 39-yarder.
"I wasn't watching the ball," Hartman
said of his overall ineffectual performance. "It was a lack of focus. It
sounds kind of petty but there ain't much to it. I know how to kick a
ball. It just comes down to the little things.
"I just need to trust my snapper, my
holder and the rest of the field goal protection unit. It's being
smooth, watching the ball and focus.
"The kick Saturday night (against
Southern Miss) was just a matter of not watching the ball. I went back
and watched it on film."
Hartman said he has hit from 70 yards
in practice with the Pirates.
"There was a little bit of breeze at my
back," he said. "I did it the year I was redshirted (2005). It was off
His career longest at ECU in a game was
a 47-yarder in the first quarter at Southern Miss. He hit 3 of 5 field
goal attempts last season and all nine of his extra point attempts.
Hartman had a 45-yarder to his credit in high school.
Hartman began playing soccer when he
was four years old. He progressed in that sport to play on elite
traveling teams in the Winston-Salem area. He played soccer at North
Davidson in addition to kicking duties in football. His dad was a
running back and an older brother was a lineman at North Davidson.
"A soccer ball, you can hit it about
anywhere and get away with it," Hartman said. "A football, you've got to
hit it at the right spot."
Hartman, whose blond hair is easily
spotted when he removes his helmet, said he doesn't dye his hair.
"It's natural," he said. "I get asked
that a lot."
Hartman walked on at ECU but has since
been placed on scholarship.
The kickers involved in competition at
ECU this week are charted on a total of 15 kicks starting with the line
of scrimmage at the 5-yard line and progressing in five-yard increments
back to the 25-yard line for a longest of 42 yards. The kickers have
three attempts at each spot for the total of 15.
Hartman said he doesn't know how the
competition stands and doesn't know how many kickers ECU will take to
Morgantown. Tom McClellan, director of athletic media relations, said he
doesn't expect to update the depth chart until Saturday.
"I just worry about myself," Hartman
said of his approach to this week's competition. "I just come out here
and try to be the best kicker I can be."
Field goal kickers have to be ready
when they're called on.
"You can't go back and re-kick,"
Hartman said. "You're one and done. If you make it, cross that line,
slap everybody up and move on to your next kick. It could be in three
quarters, three minutes or three games. You have to prepare for that
"You're only as good as your last kick
from what everybody says."
If Hartman does connect, he moves
upfield to kick off. New rules have moved kickoffs back to the 30-yard
line and that provides a different challenge.
"You've got to emphasize hang time
instead of distance," he said. "Last year you could get away with
driving it eight or nine or 10 (yards) deep. The guy isn't going to
bring it out unless he's crazy or he thinks he's that good.
"You've got to put more hang time on it
now. You still want to get it into the end zone but there's more
emphasis on the hang time."
Hartman has missed some field goals
this season and some kickoff opportunities as a result. That's why he's
kicking in practice this week to determine if he will continue kicking