Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers
Tyler Strickland’s long football road has led him to UAPB.
The reward is nice, but the challenge is great.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff senior Aaron Godwin has a bet going with the unanimous Football Championship Subdivision All-America selection from last season that Godwin can beat his punting average and earn more All-America votes. The loser of the bet buys the winner dinner.
Godwin has to improve his 36.7-yard per punt average from 2011 by more than 12 yards to win the bet to beat former Idaho State standout David Harrington. For Godwin, a San Jose native, the name of the game this season is consistency.
“I talked with some people who played some pro ball in the past. What they told me is power gets you to college but consistency gets you into the pros,” Godwin said. “Consistency is key and timing is everything, a key aspect in life in terms of kicking, punting, relationships, everything.”
The timing of being at UAPB — this is Godwin’s second year on the team — is good because he also gets to push another Californian for the top kicking job on the team. But sophomore Tyler Strickland of Alpine has come to Pine Bluff with solid credentials of his own.
“The thing is coach (Monte Coleman) doesn’t like to use a kicker and a punter, so if we can get Tyler kicking efficiently, it’s his job and Aaron will do the punting,” UAPB special teams coach Phil Cole said. “That’s the game plan. Right now, we’re making them compete out there, and we’ll take it from there.”
The Golden Lions’ first game is next Saturday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium against Langston (Okla.). The winner of the kicking battle will replace the graduated Chris Ewald at that role. Ewald converted 10 of 17 field goals with a long of 49 yards last year.
Godwin and Strickland combined for five field goals and four extra points without a miss in Wednesday’s scrimmage.
Strickland was offered a full ride to Army out of high school and attended the military academy’s preparatory school in West Point, N.Y., two years ago. There, he converted 13 of 14 field goals and 42 of 44 extra-point attempts.
But his father was stricken with cancer, and Strickland decided to head back to the West Coast and attend junior college, where he made 4 of 7 field-goal attempts with a long of 48 yards. His father is now cancer-free, and Strickland’s decision to continue his career outside California was made a little easier.
“It’s the highest offer I had and it’s a full ride, so I couldn’t turn it down and I’m excited for the season,” Strickland said of choosing UAPB. “I’ve matured and I’m not homesick a lot. I can focus on football.”
Cole said winning the special teams battle each game begins with the kickers. With the kickoffs moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line this season, Strickland set a goal of not having one returned this year.
“And field goals, I want to be perfect on each kick,” he said.
Strickland added that Godwin has been helping him improve on his game.
“Aaron’s a real big fundamentalist,” Strickland said. “He knows the backbone of kicking.”
Godwin participated in some kicking and punting competitions this summer in California, winning a punt contest with a 68-yarder that had a hang time of 5.2 seconds. He said he went against players from the Pac-12 Conference.
On the other side of special teams, Cole said Mareo Howard, Alton Taylor and Andre Mitchell will share kick and punt return duties, with running backs Justin Billings and Dennis Jenkins expected to return some kicks as well. Howard led all active players in both return categories last year, but only averaged 8.4 yards off the punt and 17.0 yards off the kick.
“Our big thing is field position,” Cole said. “If we can give the offense and defense field position, we’re winning the special teams battle. Anything after that is gravy.”