Kicker competition again is open in spring session drills

Matt Perkins

Keep your eye on the ball, stay true and follow through.”

Those are the ritualistic words that sophomore kicker Jason Giannini used to say before each kick in high school.

Now Giannini has brought the old saying back to help him maintain focus, as the once-starting kicker for the Gophers football team is competing for the first-string job this spring against fellow sophomore Joel Monroe.

“There’s a lot of competition between me and Joel,” Giannini said. “I think it’s making us both a lot better, but right now we both have kind of the same problems.”

That problem, both the kickers and coach Glen Mason said, is consistency.

“It’s average at best,” Mason said of the team’s progress in the kicking game this spring. “Neither one of the guys has won the position. It’s pretty much where we were last year.”

And that’s not a pretty spot.

Place-kicking was Giannini’s job to lose from the start of last season, and he almost did so early on.

In his first three games for Minnesota, as a redshirt freshman, Giannini converted all five of his field goal attempts while going 14 of 19 on extra points.

The following two games against Purdue and Penn State saw Giannini’s extra point struggles begin to affect his field goal tries. He missed a field goal in each of those games.

“Early last season I wasn’t treating everything the same,” Giannini said. “I thought an extra point was a gimme, I would go out there thinking that, and it turned out they weren’t gimmes.”

Then came an away game at Michigan.

Giannini went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, including a goal with one second left on the clock, to give Minnesota a 23-20 win, the team’s first victory over Michigan since 1986.

Giannini said he was sky high after that game, and it was as high as he would get.

“It’s hard to say anything about last year because there was such a big up and such big downs,” Giannini said. “I wanted to have a better season, and there are a lot of goals I didn’t accomplish.”

Giannini finished the season 13 of 19 on field goal attempts, and was just 6-of-12 from 30 yards or more.

And now the Gophers might be looking a bit closer at Monroe, who did not attempt a field goal last season.

But that hasn’t stopped him from developing consistency problems as well.

“I’m just like everyone else in that I need to work on consistency,” Monroe said. “Any kicker at any level, their biggest issue is: Can you go out and make the kicks every game, every week? That’s the number one goal.”

Although it’s unknown whether Giannini will get a second chance, or Monroe a first, for the Gophers next season, the job could be won in these last two weeks of spring practice.

In the Gophers’ first scrimmage of the spring Saturday, both Monroe and Giannini missed at least one field goal attempt.

That inconsistency has left Mason baffled.

“Why’s it so hard to make 3-foot putts?” Mason said. “I just don’t know.”