Kicker Connor Haskins was sitting out his senior year at UNC-Pembroke and looking for a graduate transfer job last fall when he noticed that N.C. State had missed its only field-goal attempt and an extra point in its 56-41 loss to Clemson on Oct. 31.
“I reached out immediately to them on that Sunday night, and they contacted me Monday,” Haskins said. “They had me in on a visit, and they basically just told me that if I could get into school here, they’d allow me to come on to the team.”
Nine months later, Haskins finds himself in a tight competition at fall camp with sophomore Kyle Bambard, who was 7-for-14 on field-goal attempts, including the Clemson miss, with a long of just 37 yards last year, for the starting kicking job.
And Haskins isn’t planning to spend his final year of college eligibility serving as the backup.
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“One of us will prove ourselves and earn the job here in a little bit — hopefully it’s me, and I believe wholeheartedly it’s going to be me,” he said. “I’d be cheating myself and cheating my teammates if I didn’t come out with that mindset. I have one year left; I’m not going to waste that.”
After graduating from Lumberton High in 2012 as the No. 30-ranked kicking recruit in the nation, Haskins became a reliable starter for three years for Division II Independent Pembroke.
He made 38 of 53 total attempts (72 percent) and showed impressive strength from long distance, converting 8 of 13 attempts (62 percent) of field goals from 40 to 49 yards with a career long of 50 yards, during his tenure with the Braves.
But the coach who recruited Haskins to Pembroke, Pete Shinnick, was replaced after the 2013 season by Shane Richardson, with whom Haskins said he “really didn’t see eye to eye.” Following a 2-8 campaign in 2014, Haskins decided to leave the team in 2015 while finishing his degree in order to retain a year of eligibility.
One of us will prove ourselves and earn the job here in a little bit — hopefully it’s me, and I believe wholeheartedly it’s going to be me.
He’s now hoping to use that retained year to make a difference for the school where his mother was once a cheerleader and the team he grew up cheering for on the old grass hill at Carter-Finley Stadium, a stadium which holds more than 57,500 – three times as many people as the largest crowd he’s ever played in front of at Pembroke.
“I’ve always believed that I could do this in the SEC, ACC, wherever. The game doesn’t change, it’s just the people around you,” Haskins said, unfazed. “If you put more pressure on yourself, then that’s shame on you. I’m anxious and excited, but I’m not nervous — I think nervous is when you’re not prepared for an opportunity.”
State coach Dave Doeren, for one, has confidence in his graduate senior kicker’s ability to handle the new pressure.
“If you’re doing it right, you don’t see (the crowd) — you see the snap, the hold and the kick,” said Doeren, whose alma mater, FCS-level Drake University, produced NFL kicker Billy Cundiff. “If you’re truly locked in, you don’t hear anything, you’re just playing.”
Haskins said he’s enjoyed camp so far and believes Bambard can be a good kicker for the Wolfpack in the future, calling himself only a “temporary fix.” He’s had to shift his day-to-day mentality to treat each practice day like he used to treat game days, as this is the first time he’s ever experienced intra-team competition for a kicking job.
Nevertheless, he’s said he’s already looking forward to the first actual game day of the season — the Sept. 1 season-opener against William & Mary — and beyond.
“Going to a place like Clemson, going up in the Carrier Dome (in Syracuse), that’s going to be a fun experience, but I don’t think that that changes anything,” Haskins said. “I’ve done this all my life. I’m comfortable in this setting and this environment.”