Senior Greg Huegel has a slight edge in Clemson’s placekicker competition heading into the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday.
However, senior Alex Spence and freshman B.T. Potter aren’t trailing Huegel by much, according to special teams coordinator Danny Pearman.
“It’s not that he’s doing anything different,” Pearman said of Huegel. “He’s probably from a percentage standpoint made more, and then Alex and B.T. are right there with him heading into tomorrow’s scrimmage.”
Pearman called the kicker battle “intense,” saying that Huegel, Spence and Potter have all shined at different points in the first week of camp.
Huegel was entrenched as the Tigers’ starting kicker before he suffered an ACL tear during practice last September, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017 season. Spence stepped up in his stead late in the year, making seven of his last eight field-goal attempts over the final seven games.
Now, Huegel is having to fight to reclaim the starting role, though he’s embracing the competition.
“All competition is good for the soul,” he said. “(Spence) pushes me every single day. B.T. pushes me every single day, and every single day it’s a really good competition. They’re both great kickers, and we’re really pushing each other and we’re improving on a daily basis, so I’m thankful for that.”
Huegel says his knee feels fine and has held up well so far in camp. The Blythewood, S.C., native shed his knee brace a couple of weeks before the start of camp and is now starting to regain his rhythm as a kicker.
“Whenever I took the brace off, it felt really good, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said.
An original walk-on who joined the team in 2015 and blossomed into an All-American by season’s end, Huegel has connected on 43-of-55 (78.2 percent) field goals and 142-of-150 extra points over the first three years of his career. The two-year starter is first in Clemson history in points per game (8.2), third in extra points, fifth in kick scoring, eighth in field goals made and eighth in scoring.
As he worked his way back from the injury, Huegel said the length on his kicks came back as a result of his rehab, while his accuracy came back naturally once he returned to kicking.
“The length came just from rehabbing every single day, strengthening my right leg every single day,” he said. “It kind of helped that it was my kicking leg just because that was a little bit more motivation for me. Like OK, the harder I work on my rehab, the less I’ll have to worry about getting the strength back completely once I get to kicking again.
“I think it was just getting used to feeling the ball on my foot again. Once I started feeling the ball on my foot, I started getting comfortable quick, just because I’ve been kicking so long. It kind of came back with muscle memory, so I was thankful for that. I didn’t have to work extra hard for accuracy or length, it just came with it.”
While Huegel is the early frontrunner in Clemson’s kicker competition, tomorrow’s stadium scrimmage will serve as the first real measuring stick for where each of the kickers are at. The Tigers will work on all phases of the kicking game — kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return and field goals — during the scrimmage.
“We’ll be out of the way in a really thump-it type environment,” Pearman said. “Each of them will get an opportunity to kick, and then we’ll try to see where it lands for our return teams, as well.”