Aaron Pettrey has always been modest, but a pronouncement after Ohio State’s kick scrimmage on Aug. 19 could have raised a few eyebrows.
Discussing the Buckeyes’ fall camp placekicking derby between himself, Ben Buchanan and Devin Barclay, Pettrey made it seem as though his claim on the top job as a returning part-time starter was something short of a lock.
“Right now, I might be third in the kicking battle,” Pettrey said. “I think Ben and Devin are a little bit more accurate than me right now, but we’re all right there together. We’re all pushing each other. Like I said, we’re all swinging really well, hitting the ball solid. I’m not the starter. We’re all battling right now.”
Part of that statement might have been borne out of a little frustration throughout camp, special teams assistant Chad Rogosheske said. It appears that dissatisfaction might have started to melt away after Pettrey was the star of that kick scrimmage, making 9 of 12 field goals and the scrimmage-winning 48-yarder.
“I think he’s been really striving for perfection this camp, and I think that maybe a little frustration has set in from time to time over the course of practice,” Rogosheske said. “I think if he kicks the ball like he did today he’s going to be fine. Hopefully this is a confidence-building experience for him, that he feels good about the way he kicked, and some of the frustration kind of fades away for him.”
It appears that Pettrey was never close to losing the faith of anyone associated with the program at any point in fall. Perhaps that’s because he’s shown he can perform in pretty much all circumstances.
After spending a year as a grayshirt, Pettrey went into 2006 locked in a battle with Ryan Pretorius and was the surprise winner, going on to make 8 of 11 field goals with a long of 51 yards for a team that made it to the national championship game.
After struggling through injury in 2007, Pettrey got back into the mix in ’08, making 7 of 8 field goals, including a long of 54 yards against Youngstown State and a 51-yarder in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas.
While kicks from distance have been Pettrey’s specialty at Ohio State – he said his range extends out to 60 yards – the team’s open practices have shown that consistency there could be the last thing to be coming around this fall.
There have been some excellent moments for Pettrey, such as making a 58-yarder in the kick scrimmage only to have it canceled out via penalty. He also made a 57-yard try in the team’s jersey scrimmage on Aug. 22 and said he made a 61-yarder in practice the day of the kick scrimmage. But his combined five misses among his 17 during the two open scrimmages kicks all came from beyond 40 yards.
That hasn’t done anything to dim the enthusiasm of those who kick with Pettrey every day.
“Aaron obviously has a strong leg,” Buchanan said. “We’ve seen that he can hit the ball, and that’s something that we can all look up to is having that leg strength. That’s something I work toward. Aaron hits a great ball.”
The Raceland, Ky., native also has showcased his leg on kickoffs the past few seasons. In 2006, Pettrey had 37 touchbacks among his 64 boots before six touchbacks among 14 tries during his injury-plagued ’07 season.
Last year, he had 13 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs, but he put enough hang time on the ball that teams averaged just 17.5 yards per return, allowing the Buckeyes to tie Penn State for the best coverage in the league.
“At this point, Aaron has established himself as a successful kickoff guy and a placekick guy for us,” Rogosheske said. “I know in the past we’ve split it up a little bit, but I think right now, being a senior he can handle both and do well at both.”
Pettrey said that he had started to hit the ball better just before the kick scrimmage, and he was hitting the ball with both power and accuracy during Monday night’s open practice. He still seems ticketed for the starting role when Navy comes to town Sept. 5.
“Right now, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time,” the 6-2, 199-pounder said after the kick scrimmage. “My goal for this season is to help out this team as much as I can, just being a senior, caring for the other seniors and trying to send us out on a good note. That’s my only goal.”