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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: Success, At Last
By Steve Helwagen
(From Feb. 2006 issue)
For five long years, Josh Huston largely sat back and watched.
Yes, there was the ill-fated 2001 season, when Huston did get on the field and attempted 10 field goals. He made only three of those kicks, though, and was relegated to a backup role behind Mike Nugent.
The rest was history as Nugent put a death grip on the kicking job for the Buckeyes over the next three years. He twice won All-American honors and ended his career as the Lou Groza Award winner in 2004.
Amazingly, Huston, who was at OSU one year before Nugent arrived, was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. He cited a series of injuries that had kept him out of action in the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
He stuck around for the 2005 season and competed with walk-ons Aaron Pettrey and Ryan Pretorius to replace Nugent. But Huston was not content in simply replacing Nugent. He wanted to match or better his record of success for the Buckeyes.
And, over the course of the regular season, he came awfully close.
Huston followed in Nugent's footsteps as the first team All-Big Ten kicker. He made 20 of his 24 field goals with a long kick of 47 yards (one against Iowa and another in the win over Michigan). His misses were from 50, 50, 49 and 46 yards. Huston was also 40 of 41 on PAT attempts.
But the stat that stood out was Huston's whopping 49 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs. That figure was believed to be a Big Ten record. Playing for a coach who likes to see his teams win on the basis of defense and field position, Huston more than replaced Nugent.
"Josh Huston has done everything we had hoped he would do," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We knew he was an excellent kicker. We knew he has a tremendously strong leg. He was in a battle five years ago for the starting job and was still kicking off well into the season and Mike Nugent kind of took the job.
"To Josh Huston's credit, he kept working on it. He fought through some injuries and really couldn't kick very much for a couple years. But he had confidence in himself. Usually, the people that achieve have even more confidence in themselves than maybe everyone else does. He knew for sure that he could do this and going into the year, I felt that he was very capable."
Huston and Pretorius, a native of South Africa, went toe to toe – literally – during preseason camp. But Huston won the job.
"Right near the end of preseason, Ryan Pretorius, who was battling it out at kicker with Josh, said, ‘Josh Huston's going to have a tremendous year this year, I promise you.' And for the guy who was trying to beat him out to say that -- he's with him every second during practice, so we've really been pleased with what he's done."
One would think that Huston would have spent the off-season kicking every day as he pined to finally be OSU's starting kicker. But Huston knew he needed to be strong and healthy when the season began. He concentrated more on lifting and running than actually kicking the ball.
"In the off-season, believe it or not, I didn't kick for 2-1/2 months," Huston said. "I worked out and I did legs and stuff. But I did no kicking. I came back and I was crushing the ball. It was the best I've ever hit the ball."
Huston, a native of Findlay, Ohio, has been known for his strong leg since he arrived at OSU. But improving his accuracy was the biggest thing. He made his first five field goals in the showdown against Texas. But a late 50-yard miss that drifted just wide left helped shape that 25-22 loss. His other 50-yard miss came in the 17-10 loss at Penn State.
"It's nice that I am 100 percent inside 45 yards," Huston said. "I have those two 50-yarders I missed. I was just wide right. I'd like to have those two back. Unfortunately, we lost those two games. I'm feeling confident. Most of my balls have been pretty much down the middle and no-doubters.
"The Texas one, I knew I left my hips open to the right. But I knew there was some wind coming back left. I thought it might hook back in a little bit. It was trying to, but just didn't do it enough. The Penn State one, I thought I hit it down the middle. Mike would say, ‘Ninety-five percent of the time, you would know where it was going.' That was just one of those times where you didn't.
"I left it right there and there was a wind going right-to-left there that didn't bring it back, either. Those are things I need to work out."
Huston ended the year hitting 83.3 percent of his field goals.
"What the coaches really look for is a 70 percent mark throughout the season," Huston said. "I think we have really bumped up the standard. I set an 85 percent goal for myself before the season. Now that I can see that I can do a little better, I'm trying for that."
Huston's ability to deliver touchbacks helped the Buckeyes immensely as they made their push toward a Big Ten title.
"When you have a guy that pounds it through the end zone, that helps," Tressel said. "Josh had a lot of life in his leg and making them start 80 yards away, making anyone start 80 yards away for our defense will make their job harder."
Tressel admitted that it is hard to find a kicker who can consistently back up the opponent like Huston did this season.
"It took Mike Nugent until his fourth year to pound them through the end zone," Tressel said. "In 2003, our kickoff coverage was a nightmare. We just were only kicking the ball to the 5 and the 6 and here he was one of the great kickers in the country. Like anything else, I think you can develop it. We work hard to do that."
Huston talked about the nature of being a kicker. It's a position that requires, well, a lot of patience.
"Well, we don't hit people," he said. "We don't have to watch a bunch of film. We just go out there and do our job. It's hard to keep our attention for a four-hour practice or through films. We have to find ways to keep ourselves entertained. We're different in that we're nonchalant and maybe a little more loose.
"I like to stay loose and relaxed. If I'm serious the whole time, I would get tense. I don't think that's the way to do it. I just try to stay light-mannered about the whole thing and I think that keeps me on my game."
As a kicker, it also helps to be a perfectionist. Like a golfer who tries to repeat the same swing over and over, Huston notes the importance of being able to repeat the same kicking motion each time.
"I have the same routine I use every time," he said. "I try to be picky with the balls that I hit. I may hit one down the middle but I may get under it a bit. I'm not happy with it because I didn't hit it the way that I wanted to. That keeps me on top of my game."
Huston was the one remaining remnant from the John Cooper era. He talks about his long and arduous road to this season.
"When you look at it, you're part of a great team," he said. "That's how you look at it, whether you play or not. It's tough. Last year, I just put myself in situations and asked, ‘If I'm in this situation, how would I prepare?' It was good preparation for this year.
"You start figuring it out after a while," Huston said. "You go out here and figure out what you need to do and how to save your leg and when to kick and when not to kick. I've been in the shadows for six years, but it's been fun. I've learned a lot watching Mike kick and just being around him and how to handle situations."
With Nugent in firm control of the kicking job, Huston tried his hand at punting last year. But when walk-on Kyle Turano nailed down that job, Huston was again relegated to the sidelines.
"I had never punted before," Huston said. "I was trying to just get out there and do it. I punted too much in the preseason and my body didn't hold up. I didn't have the pop any more. With kicking, I already know how to kick. When I practice, I don't practice to get better. I practice to maintain and make sure I'll be in top form for camp and, ultimately, for the season."
A year ago, Nugent went on to become a second-round NFL draft pick of the New York Jets. Huston is hoping his one big year – not to mention his big leg – will persuade a pro team to look his way.
"I would love to do that," he said. "I know Coach has said there have been some teams that have come in and asked about me. I kick a lot of my kickoffs out of the end zone. I don't know what they're looking for or what they need or if one year is enough for them.
"But look at (former OSU punter) B.J. (Sander), he got drafted in the third round and he only played one year. Who knows?"