DURHAM — A year go, Duke’s season got off on the wrong foot. A pair of missed field goals, including one from 28 yards with 1 minute, 43 seconds left, doomed the Blue Devils to an embarrassing 23-21 home loss to Richmond.
So Saturday, when freshman kicker Ross Martin booted his first field goal through from 34 yards in the second quarter, a certain sense of relief on the Duke sideline was understandable. When he missed from 39 yards in the fourth quarter, with the 46-26 win against Florida International well in hand, no one really noticed.
“I got a couple field-goal opportunities, got my first field goal – it was really a perfect night for me,” Martin said.
Coming out of Walsh Jesuit High in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Martin was either the No. 1 kicker recruit in the country (rivals.com) or No. 2 (ESPN, scout.com). Either way, he was a big addition for a Duke team that badly needed help at the spot – and a little consistency.
Will Snyderwine was an All-American as a junior in 2010, going 21 for 24 on field goals after making 17 of 20 as a sophomore, all after making the team from an open tryout.
But as a senior, Snyderwine collapsed, missing his first four attempts – including the loss to Richmond – and tweaking an already injured kicking ankle during an onside kick against Stanford. He finished 8 for 17, missing three field goals in a four-point loss to Virginia Tech.
It’s not a stretch to say the kicking game cost Duke two wins in a 3-9 season.
That’s an old story for the Blue Devils, one they’ve heard too many times. Nick Maggio went 11 for 14 in 2008 before losing the job to Snyderwine in 2009; Joe Surgan was one of the top high-school kickers in the country in 2005 but went 12 for 28 in college and struggled to hold down the starting job. While hopes are high for Martin, they’ve been dashed at Duke before.
Long before he attempted his first field goal against Florida International, Martin was facing pressure of a different kind. To conclude Duke’s last scrimmage, the team crowded around him, standing only inches away, as he booted field goal after field goal through, from 20 yards, then 30, then 40. His last went through with at least 10 yards to spare, but the scrimmage was over.
“I definitely felt like I was prepared for it,” Martin said. “With the practices and everything, coaches have put me into a lot of pressure situations where we tried to simulate as much of a game as we could.”
At that point, even before Saturday’s win, he’d proven himself to his teammates and coaching staff anyway. Whatever happened, whatever came next, the job was his against Stanford on Saturday and likely far into the future.
“He’s accepted every challenge,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Our team and myself will live with whatever the results may be. With Ross, there’s going to be a lot more good than bad, you know that. He’s got a long, good career in front of him.”
DeCock: email@example.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947