Redshirt freshman Aaron Pettrey had a strong performance in Wednesday’s kick scrimmage, going 9-for-9 in field goals and possibly locking up the placekicking job over sophomore Ryan Pretorius.
“Aaron Pettery hit the ball very well today; very consistent,” Ohio State assistant coach Darrell Hazell said. “He got into a rhythm and was hitting them from all areas of the field and was stroking it pretty good.”
Pettrey made the winning kick on the last play of the scrimmage, lifting his team to a 27-24 victory. He also made the winning kick in the spring kick scrimmage with a 59-yard bomb.
So, the question begs to be asked: Is Pettrey now the Buckeyes’ starting kicker?
“We’ll watch the film here tonight and try and make a decision before the weekend is over,” Hazell said.
Official stats were not available for Pretorius, but Hazell was asked if the native of South Africa was inconsistent on Wednesday.
“He needs to kick a little bit better,” Hazell said.
Hazell thinks that Pettrey and Pretorius are both looking good on kickoffs.
“Well, we’ll probably use them both at some point of the year, depending on what we’re doing,” he said. “They are doing a nice job with kickoffs, both of those kids.”
But it wasn’t just an audition for the kickers. Several other special teams jobs were up for grabs on Wednesday inside Ohio Stadium.
“Well, we tell them going in that this is a big day for a lot of people trying to make the plane trip to Texas and places like that,” Hazell said. “You’ve got to cut down numbers and there are a lot of guys that played today who are on the bubble in terms of being able to contribute, so it was a big day for a lot of guys.”
Hazell wasn’t sure of the exact stats, but he thinks the kick and punt returners had a strong showing.
“Malcolm Jenkins had a very nice return, and Brian Hartline had a great return at the end,” he said.
Hazell shed some light on which players will be used in the return games. Everyone knows who the primary return man will be, but there are several backups looking to get in the mix with Ted Ginn Jr.
“Teddy will obviously be the punt returner and kick returner, especially in our diamond alignment as a kick returner,” Hazell said. “We will also use Anthony Gonzalez back there deep. We are pretty deep back there. We’ve got Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, Ray Small is looking pretty good these first couple weeks. We’ve got some nice depth there.
“On the kickoffs, Teddy has done a very good job this camp. Mo Wells, Anderson Russell has done a good job. So, we’ve got a lot of guys.”
Hazell seems more concerned about who will be doing the blocking on returns.
“The thing that we need to do a good job on is the front five, because that is the key to having successful returns,” he said. “We want to be getting guys back and getting hands on people and just holding them off long enough so we can hit those creases.”
Hazell explained why the Buckeyes will use the diamond alignment on kickoff returns.
“It gives you a couple of things,” he said. “One of the things, you’re going to get a lot of pooches with Teddy, because they don’t want to kick it to him. So, that’s kind of a fail-safe way of making sure you are handling the ball on trick kicks and those types of things. That’s probably our biggest strength right now and we’ve got some things we can do out of it.
“Right now it’s Roy Hall at the right wing, and Anthony Gonzalez at the left wing.”
And on punt returns, OSU will likely use two returners like they have done the last two years. But Hazell says they will mix it up more this year.
“Yeah, we’ll change it up, based on what we’re doing up front,” he said. “Again, we’ve got Teddy back there and teams are going to want to kick away from him and it’s always easier to handle the ball with two guys back deep. And that’s Gonzo right now.”
Pettrey Steps Up
Pettrey is a humble, soft-spoken young man. He didn’t want to proclaim the job was now his, but he did concur with Hazell’s assessment that he had a good performance in the kick scrimmage.
“Yeah, I would agree with him,” Pettrey said. “I had a good day out there. Snap and hold was real good, line held up. I was a little slow today, but they gave me good time and I hit the ball well.”
A 9-for-9 showing left him feeling pretty good about his chances that he will be the starter.
“Yeah, kicking is all about confidence and I’ve got good confidence right now,” he said. “I keep getting put in a good position and being in the stadium seems to help me out a little bit. I’ve been kicking real well in there.”
Pettrey and Pretorius might be competing for the same job, but they are friends. And Pettrey thinks that Pretorius didn’t do anything to hurt himself on Wednesday.
“He looked good today,” Pettrey said. “He got caught with some long field goals and he was trying too much and hooked a few of them. But he just got caught in a tough spot. I think he kicked a 60-yarder and missed it just a little bit left.
“We’re roommates at the hotel. We stay together and we’re friends and we’ll stay friends. It doesn’t matter. We talk about kicking and how we did that day and what we did wrong. We try helping out each other if anything.”
Pettrey’s longest field goal of the day was 47 yards. The game-winner was roughly 34 or 35 yards. He did miss one field goal, but it was wiped from the boards due to a roughing the kicker penalty.
Pettrey sat out the 2004 season and then came to OSU as a walk-on last fall. He quickly earned a scholarship and is now on the verge of beginning what could be a career as a four-year starter. He stuck with the Buckeyes and is now being rewarded for it.
“When I first came up here, I knew I would have a chance to play up here,” he said. “Going into the spring I was trying to win the job and help the team and do whatever I could do.”
Pettrey is a cool customer who doesn’t get rattled with pressure. He was also a star quarterback in high school in Raceland, Ky.
“I just try not to think about it too much,” Pettrey said. “Just do what you do every day and go out there and kick field goals. There is no reason to put pressure on myself. It’s just go out there and kick the ball. That’s all I think about.”
Pettrey is in line to replace Josh Huston, who replaced arguably the best kicker in school history, Mike Nugent. Ohio State is starting to build a nice tradition of kickers under head coach Jim Tressel.
“They made it pretty tough, but I’m still good friends with them and talk to them about pressure and what they think and everything,” Pettrey said. “That’s a lot of pressure, but I think I’m ready for it.”
Kickers must use a smaller tee this year on kickoffs, but Pettrey should have no trouble racking up the touchbacks if he wins the job.
“I don’t think anything has really changed with me with the smaller tee,” he said. “I’m hitting those pretty well too. I’ve been hitting them well with good hang time and getting them eight or nine deep, most of them. When I came in I was pretty set on kickoffs because I always had a real strong leg.”
Pettrey was asked one more time if he thinks he will be the starting kicker for the opener Sept. 2 against Northern Illinois.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Me and Ryan are still dead even right now, so I’m not sure what the coaches think. I’m happy being where I’m at right now. I’m real happy with that. But I’m not sure who has the leg up or anything. I’m just going to go out there tomorrow and try and do what I did today.”
Trapasso Has A Solid Day
One player who is not battling for a job is sophomore punter A.J. Trapasso. He averaged 40.1 yards per punt last year and is looking to build on that this season.
“I had a pretty good day today,” Trapasso said. “I started off slow, but I bounced back. I’ve still got a little bit of work to do before we start next week, but it’s coming along.”
The coaches place a lot of emphasis on the kick scrimmage, and so do the players.
“Today is a day where we get the live reps and you feel the pressure of the defense coming in really strong,” Trapasso said. “And rep after rep, it makes you work when you’re tired. It’s more game-like, it’s at a higher rate of speed than practice might be. It’s good and I’m really happy that Coach Tressel does something like this.”
Trapasso wasn’t sure of his statistics for the kick scrimmage.
“I hit one pretty good,” he said. “I don’t know how far it went; I don’t really keep track of that. I was just trying to kick it outside the numbers and get it out 40 yards or so.”
Trapasso was asked if he thinks Pettrey is close to locking up the kicking job.
“They are both doing well and they’ve both had a heck of a camp,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s close and I couldn’t say one way or the other. Just based on makes, Pettrey had a better day, but they are both kicking the ball very solid. We’ll see what happens.”
And Trapasso wanted to make sure to give some recognition to the Buckeyes’ senior long snapper, Drew Norman. Norman is entering his second year as a starter. He’s a former walk-on who was placed on scholarship last year.
“Oh, Drew Norman is phenomenal,” Trapasso said. “Next to (former OSU long snapper) Kyle Andrews who is playing for Pittsburgh right now, he’s the next best thing and he’ll be right there with Kyle in the next year or so.”
What makes Norman such a good long snapper?
“Just his consistency,” Trapasso said. “He can fire it back there in .65 or whatever it is. I catch laces up and he’s real good about putting it in the window between you hips and your shoulders. He’s great.”