Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pregame reading

The service academies are all about precision and discipline. Yet there's something about Army that throws my timing totally out of whack. Maybe it's subconscious. Or maybe it was my first trip to West Point a few months after 9/11 that threw me for a loop. I was covering Quinnipiac's hockey team in their conference championship game at Army, and was greeted at the security gate by a couple of Cadets toting M-16s who wanted to inspect the trunk of my car and underneath the hood. A tad disconcerting.

Last season, I was running late heading up to West Point for the UConn-Army game. Big mistake. Trying to park at Army on a football game day is a morning-long affair. By the time I got onto campus, found somewhere to park, made the long trek to Michie Stadium with a crowd of about 25,000 others, got through security and up to the press box, the game had already started.

This morning, I was asked to join Michael Kim and Jim Donnan for the College Gameday Tailgate show on ESPN Radio and it threw my whole routine off. After the interview I hustled to shower, change and get my rear end to the Runway only to hit traffic snags going under the tunnel on the Merritt Parkway in Woodbridge, the I-91 merger and again near the Runway. At least I arrived before kickoff, although I missed the annual media tailgate gathering and my spot on WTIC's pregame reporter roundtable with Bob Joyce.

Anyway, here'a a little pregame reading about Graig Vicidomino, the Huskies new kicker.

Place kicking can be a real pressure cooker, especially when things aren't going well. Seymour's Graig Vicidomino has witnessed it first hand. Well, make that second hand.

Vicidomino has spent most of the last four seasons as the backup to Trumbull's Matt Nuzie on the University of Connecticut football team. During that time, Vicidomino has watched Nuzie, his close friend, ride the waves of emotion that have trademarked Nuzie's streaky career.

But after Nuzie missed another extra point and short field goal last Saturday in the first half of a loss at South Florida , UConn coach Randy Edsall benched his four-year starter and awarded the full-time kicking duties to Vicidomino.

Today, Vicidomino gets his first career start when Army visits Rentschler Field in East Hartford at noon. It’s the final non-conference game for the Huskies (2-3), coming off successive blow-out losses to Navy and South Florida the last two weeks.

"The way I see it is as an opportunity," Vicidomino said. "I don't have much to lose. I'm getting a shot here. If I get job done, that's what it's supposed to be. If not, I'll be the second guy. It's a big opportunity to move ahead."

Vicidomino has had success when forced into action. Last season, Nuzie was injured at Army. Vicidomino came in and nailed 35- and 40-yard field goals. Last week, he again converted his only two kicks, a 19-yarder late in the first half and a late extra point.

The difference today is that Vicidomino isn't an emergency mid-game replacement. He got word of his promotion Sunday, and has spent the past week preparing for Army.

Part of that preparation is not thinking about Nuzie's problems. Perhaps no player has gone from hero to goat as often as Nuzie since winning the kicking job as a redshirt freshman back in 2003.

There were big kicks. He beat Akron with a 27-yarder as time expired in 2003, drilled three clutch field goals against Pittsburgh and 4-of-5 in the Motor City Bowl win over Toledo in 2004 to name a few. And there were misses, like the nine blown extra points, including crucial ones in two of the last four weeks against Wake Forest and South Florida .

Vicidomino, taking a page from Peter Pan, says he merely thinks happy thoughts to deal with the pressure.

"Kicking obviously is a big pressure situation," Vicidomino said. "You can be in a situation also when you don't know when going you're going in and don't feel any pressure, then all of a sudden it all drops on you. It's definitely difficult to deal with, because all of a sudden you have to switch it on, go in and get the job done. You have to focus all the time."

Kicking has always been a part of Vicidomino's life, but it was soccer balls that occupied his feet in Seymour . Prior to his junior year of high school, when he wasn't sure if he would make the varsity soccer team, Vicidomino wondered about making the switch to football. It helped that Paul Sponheimer, Seymour 's longtime football coach, lived only a couple of doors down the street. Sponheimer convinced Vicidomino to give football a try, along with a few practice balls.

"I just started kicking balls with my dad in the yard," Vicidomino said. "I had no idea if I would be good enough because I was kicking into trees and stuff. But at practice I got some idea by what the kids said to me, and I realized I might be pretty good at it."

Success came quickly. After just one season of kicking, Vicidomino, who also played baseball at Seymour, was being approached by area college programs. He planned to attend Division I-AA Sacred Heart until UConn entered the picture at the last minute. After a visit to campus, he decided to take the Huskies up on their offer to walk-on.

"I was taking a chance going to a I-A program, but it was well worth the chance," Vicidomino said.

Vicidomino spent three seasons working as a backup, occasionally entering a game for an on-sides kick or mop-up field goal duty. He was rewarded for his hard work when Edsall presented him with a full scholarship in August. It came as a complete surprise.

"I had no idea," Vicidomino said. "Out of nowhere we had a team meeting during camp when coach announced it. I just felt like that one final year paid off, like my senior year couldn't have ended better."


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