South Dakota State kicker makes a name for himself
BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — Though Chase Vinatieri was a standout wide receiver at Roosevelt, there was no escaping that he was expected to be the team’s kicker, and a good one, too. After all, his coach at Roosevelt was Kim Nelson, the same guy who coached Chase’s famous uncle, future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri, at Rapid City Central.
It didn’t always come easy, though. At times Chase Vinatieri struggled enough for Nelson to audition other kickers. But by the end of his career, Chase was an all-state kicker (in addition to honorable mention all-state receiver).
That landed him a scholarship at South Dakota State University, his uncle’s alma mater, where Chase Vinatieri is about to enter his junior season as one of the most promising kickers in all of college football.
As a sophomore in 2017, Vinatieri made 13 out of 14 field goals, including all seven attempts from at least 40 yards out and both of his more than 50-yard attempts. Those numbers, combined with his famous name mean expectations are sky-high for Chase Vinatieri, but it’s still a work in progress.
John Stiegelmeier was recently asked about his kicker and the coach chuckled and said, “I don’t know if he made a kick yesterday.” But if history is any indication, that’s little reason for concern.
Chase Vinatieri straightened himself out in high school. As a redshirt freshman in 2016 he had a wildly inconsistent preseason, and the coaches were genuinely unsure what to expect when they opened the year at TCU, at least until he went out and went 5-for-5 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals in his college debut. He capped off a strong freshman season by hitting a game-winning 40-yarder in wintry conditions to beat Villanova in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Maybe, like his famous uncle, Chase Vinatieri just has a knack for coming through when it matters most.
“We had a phenomenal team last year — really good players, and I think that motivated me and focused me up to where I felt like I had to go out and do the job because I knew those guys were definitely going to do theirs,” Chase Vinatieri told the Argus Leader . “Everybody knows our team always talks about going 1-0 every week. Well that’s how it is for me, too. I just try to go 1-0 on every kick.”
It’ll be hard for Chase Vinatieri to top last season, at least statistically, but he looks bigger and stronger in camp, and the ball is rocketing off his foot in practice. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, and clearly isn’t unfamiliar with the weight room. And if Jacks fans doubted his skills as a receiver at Roosevelt could translate to the college game he proved them wrong in last year’s win at Montana State, where he took a pitch from holder Brady Hale on a fake field goal and raced 31-yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Still, it was Chase Vinatieri’s success on field goals that made 2017 such a big year. His only miss was a relative chip shot from 24 yards out in the wind and rain in a home loss to Northern Iowa. He hit a 51-yarder against Drake, his first career 50-plus kick, and added a 55-yarder in a playoff win against Northern Iowa, a game in which he also notched two tackles, one of which qualified as a legit highlight-reel hit.
What does he do for an encore?
“There’s always things to work on and last season is in the past,” Vinatieri said. “It’s just tons of repetition and consistency. Every kick should be the same — steps, swing, plant foot — you just have to make sure all of those factors are the same every single time and hopefully the flight of the ball takes care of itself.”
But there’s still the mental side of it. And that’s where Chase Vinatieri tapped his uncle for advice. They got together in the summer of 2017 to catch up as uncle and nephew, and yes, they kicked together. Adam made a few minor tweaks to Chase Vinatieri’s foot positioning but for the most part left his mechanics alone.
Adam Vinatieri was already in the NFL when Chase Vinatieri was born, and became a household name not through his statistics but by making some of the most clutch kicks in NFL history. So if you’re a young college kicker and you have perhaps the best kicker of all time as a resource, what do you ask him?
“I wanted to know how he handled all of those big kicks mentally,” Chase Vinatieri said. “The snow game in Oakland — how he handled that, what he was thinking. Kicking game winners in the Super Bowl. I wanted to know what he was feeling in those moments and what he did to zone everything out and just focus on the job, because that’s the biggest spotlight in football. What made him so strong and so confident in those situations?”
And Adam Vinatieri’s answer?
“You just have to go in your own zone,” Chase Vinatieri remembers being told. “You know what you have to do, don’t let anything get in the way of that. Visualize the kick and where it’s going to go. Staying in that zone and not letting anything distract you — that’s the big thing.”
Chase Vinatieri should get the opportunity to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. His strong leg and name alone will almost certainly draw interest from NFL teams when his career is over. But he wants to earn an NFL gig, and eventually have a long career similar to his uncle’s. The formula to do that is nothing special, but Chase Vinatieri knows exactly how it goes.
″(The NFL) is the ultimate goal and what I want to do,” he said. “But I can’t think about that now. I try to go every day practice to practice, kick to kick. I can still get a lot better and I need to get a lot better. Hopefully I get the opportunity at the next level, and I have two seasons to prove that I deserve it.”
And if he gets a chance to run another fake or two, that’d just be icing on the cake.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com