The siren on IU Coach Tom Allen’s bullhorn was on repeat Monday morning.
With every press of the button, Allen filled the air around the IU football practice fields with a high-pitched, screeching sound.
Up close and personal with that blaring noise were two kickers — junior Logan Justus and freshman Charles Campbell.
As the two practiced kicking field goals in late-game situations, Allen would get directly behind their heads and let the siren blare time and time again, giving each attempt more of a game-like atmosphere.
It’s a standard practice drill for the Hoosiers, but it’s also one they might need to utilize a little more often than they have in the past as the 2018 season approaches.
After losing a former two-time Big Ten Kicker of the Year in Griffin Oakes this offseason, IU has been left with an inexperienced group of kickers that have combined for zero in-game collegiate field goals attempts.
That’s why Allen and his staff have made it a priority to get those kickers comfortable and confident with game-like backdrops that will feature the raucous sound of thousands of screaming fans.
“We all can kick and we all can do our job when it’s 70 degrees and sunny,” IU Special Teams Coordinator William Inge said. “But when the heat is turned up and everything is on the line and you’ve got 100,000 fans screaming against you, can you still have that same composure, that same calmness to execute the muscle memory that it needs to still be able to put that ball through the goal posts.”
Now, the Hoosiers find themselves in the midst of a battle for the starting field goal kicker position in which Justus and Campbell are duking it out for the top spot on the depth chart, while sophomore Jared Smolar is looking to secure a spot as the starter for kickoffs.
As of right now, both Allen and Inge said there is no clear front-runner when it comes to field goal duties.
“We’ve got several position battles and that’s a very intense one,” Allen said. “Right now, coming out of the scrimmage, I felt like Logan and Charles had kind of become the two front-runners for that position for field goals. We’re charting every kick and trying to apply pressure and want to see somebody separate themselves there.”
Out of the three main candidates, Justus is the most familiar with IU. The McCordsville, Indiana, native redshirted as a walk-on in 2015, but did not see any game action in 2016 or 2017 while serving as a reserve behind Oakes.
Meanwhile, Campbell is the most-heralded prospect of the kicking group and is the only one of the three candidates on scholarship for the Hoosiers. The freshman from Jackson, Tennessee, comes into his first season as a three-star recruit and also took part in the U.S. Army High School All-American Bowl during the offseason.
“He has great drive and great lift on the ball,” Inge said. “That’s what makes him special because that ball gets great lift right now. Individually, up front, the PAT or field goal block unit, if they do get pushed, he can get enough lift on the ball to where the ball’s got a chance to get through the uprights.”
Joining Justus as a player with college experience in the group is Smolar, who is a transfer from Rutgers and has the most experience out of any of IU’s kickers. Although he never attempted an in-game field goal, Smolar did play in the Scarlet Knights’ first three games as a freshman in 2016. In those three games, he totaled 21 kickoffs with an average of 55.1 yards.
That experience seems to be working in his favor as Allen said Smolar is the front-runner for handling kickoff duties in 2018, especially since Allen said he wants to separate field goal and kickoff duties this season.
“I would definitely push toward that direction with him,” Allen said. “That’s one of his strengths and an area he has definitely done a good job at in the past and we need him to do that as well.”
With nobody distancing themselves when it comes to field goal duties yet, Inge said one approach the Hoosiers might look at is rotating their kickers this season.
“That’s something I have observed and experienced in college,” Inge said. “In the Big Ten, we had two kickers. We had someone who kicked kind of your mid-range to short field goals and someone who kicked your long field goals.”
With more late-game situations and plenty more of Coach Allen’s bullhorn surely to come during the practices leading up to the season, Inge said it all comes down to who can handle the pressure the best so that everybody feels comfortable heading into the Hoosiers’ season opener at Florida International on Sept. 1.
“My goal is to be sure, no matter who we choose, they’re going to be ready and they’re going to be prepared,” Inge said. “That’s the one thing we told Coach Allen. We’re going to be confident in who we put out there and the next man is going to be ready because you never know how things go during a game and during a season, so we’re going to feel confident in who we put out there at the right time.”