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Tuesday, Nov. 28
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Coming to the end

IU kicker Austin Starr watches a replay from the bench during IU's 16-7 loss to Minnesota on Saturday, Oct. 4, in Minneapolis. Starr had no field goal attempts in the game.

One year ago, senior Austin Starr was Bloomington’s hero.

Back then, Hoosiers everywhere rejoiced when the then-junior sent a 49-yard field goal through the uprights in the season’s penultimate moment. His celebrated kick sent the Hoosiers to their first bowl berth since 1993 and seemingly revitalized the program.

But now, in a downtrodden year marked by disappointment, Starr and his team have sunk back to the bottom of the Big Ten.

But they’ll get one last shot at redemption Saturday.

“It is kind of surreal, but it hasn’t gone too fast,” Starr said, reflecting on his upcoming final game. “I’ve been taking it in.”

Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued the 2008 Hoosiers, and Starr is no exception. A nagging hip injury prohibited him from putting up the same performance throughout his senior campaign that he displayed as a junior. A year ago, Starr kicked 21-of-23 field goals, hit all 48 extra points and, at one point, nailed 15 field goals in a row.

This year, he hasn’t been so automatic. Through his first 11 games, Starr made 9-of-16 field goals and missed two extra points.

While the injury – which he says is fine now – made kicking that much harder, the misses mounted and began to affect his psyche. After regrouping, he settled himself down and realized it wasn’t about his statistics – it was about helping his team, which he vowed to do better.

“People don’t really care if you’re hurt or not,” Starr said. “If you’re in the game and you miss, it’s not like you get a point for just attempting a field goal.”

Starr is one of 17 Hoosiers who will don the IU uniform one last time on Saturday. Regardless of IU’s bowl eligibility – or lack thereof – the Old Oaken Bucket game has special meaning for this group of seniors.

Not only is this Purdue coach Joe Tiller’s last game before he retires, but IU has not captured the Bucket in consecutive years since 1990-91.

What happens after this game for Starr is anybody’s guess. Prior to the beginning of the season, Starr was dubbed a Lou Groza Award candidate and had a legitimate chance of playing in the NFL.

When he first came to IU, Starr was not on anybody’s radar. For the past four years, though, co-special teams coordinator George Ricumstrict has watched Starr grow into one of the nation’s top place-kickers.

“He’s had some struggles this year,” Ricumstrict said. “That happens at times. But I think he’s done a good job at continuing to work hard and try to work himself through his struggles that he’s had.”

But with Starr’s struggles this year, the thought of going to dental school keeps nagging at his dream of playing on Sundays.

“I’m not really worrying about the NFL right now,” Starr said. “I’m trying to enjoy this, thrive in it and get better. ... Dental school is something that is concrete – it’s predictable. The NFL, it’s unpredictable.”

Regardless of his future, Starr will always have Nov. 17, 2007 – a day that seemed to change the direction of IU football.

An emotional player, Starr did a little bit more than just tear up when his field goal beat Purdue. Following his post-game interviews, one person went up to Starr to thank him, causing the kicker’s eyes to well up as he held off an outburst of tears.

To have that opportunity once more to beat Purdue on the strength of his leg is something Starr is not just ready for – he yearns for it.

“That would be everything I could want,” Starr said. “Two years in a row to kick the game-winner – a game winner is what kickers dream of.”

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