Walk-on kick­ers carry key roles in national semi­fi­nal

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Bob Baum

scotts­dale, ariz.» Two years ago, Tyler Durbin was kick­ing around a soc­cer ball at James Madi­son Univer­sity. Greg Huegel was a fresh­man watch­ing Clem­son foot­ball games from the stands.

Now one of them could face a nervewrack­ing shot at de­ter­min­ing whether No. 2 Ohio State (11-1, CFP No. 3) or Clem­son (12-1, CFP No. 2) wins Satur­day’s Fi­esta Bowl and ad­vances to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off cham­pi­onship game.

“Ev­ery kicker, I think, al­ways dreams of kick­ing that game-win­ning field goal,” Durbin said Thurs­day. “It puts a lot of pres­sure on you, but that’s why you’re in the busi­ness.”

Durbin is still a non­schol­ar­ship player, tak­ing over as the Buck­eyes’ kicker when Sean Nuern­berger suf­fered a groin in­jury in pre­sea­son camp this year.

“He’s seized the op­por­tu­nity and had a phe­nom­e­nal year. We love him to death,” spe­cial-teams coach Kerry Coombs said. “The first foot­ball game of his life was our opener this year.”

At Clem­son, Huegel prac­ticed three or four times per week, made reg­u­lar con­tact with spe­cial-teams coach Danny Pear­man and en­tered a kick­ing com­pe­ti­tion be­fore the 2015 sea­son.

“I knew that I wanted to walk on, just be­cause I didn’t have any­thing to lose,” Huegel said.

Af­ter a stand­out first sea­son, Huegel has a schol­ar­ship now.

Durbin knows a whole lot about pres­sure too. Through 11 games this sea­son, he was 16-for-17 on field goals, with his only miss be­ing a block on the road against Penn State.

Then came the Buck­eyes’ reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale, against ri­val Michi­gan.

In an in­tense, close game, Durbin missed twice — once from 37 yards, and later a 21-yard chip shot. Coombs ap­proached his down­cast kicker.

“I walked down there and saw him af­ter he missed the sec­ond one,” Coombs said. “I don’t usu­ally talk to him dur­ing the game, but I gave him my wrist­band.” It reads E + R = O, Event plus Re­sponse equals Out­come, a pro­gram motto that Buck­eyes head coach Ur­ban Meyer picked up from mo­ti­va­tional speak­ers.

Coombs said he told his young kicker, “You’re go­ing to make the kick to win the game.” Not quite, but it was a sea­son-saver. Mo­ments later, Durbin jogged onto the field and nailed a 23-yard field goal with one sec­ond left to send the game into over­time. Ohio State even­tu­ally won 30-27 in two over­times.

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