Tyler Strickland wants his senior season at Arkansas-Pine Bluff to go the way his first scrimmage in this year’s preseason camp went — perfectly.
Strickland is fully aware of the struggles he endured last season, when he made only 9 of 15 field-goal attempts. He also knows he’s not fully at fault.
“We switched around from guy to guy (at long snapper) from the beginning of the season, and we literally had to train someone the day of the first game,” said the Californian, who also converted 35 of 38 extra points. “By the time we got somebody settled in, it was toward the end of the season. It wasn’t the same guy getting reps.”
UAPB used four different long snappers during the season after one quit during camp and another missed the campaign with an injury. The snapping issues led to inconsistency in Strickland’s kicking when he was expected to add to the hero status he attained with his winning field goal in the 2012 SWAC championship game.
“I had a chance to have the spotlight on me a bit and make a name for myself, but it just didn’t work out last season,” he said.
UAPB has settled the snapping issue with senior tight end C.J. Branch taking over those duties. And Strickland went 5 for 5 in field goals last Wednesday’s scrimmage with a long of 52 yards. His longest in a UAPB game was 51 at the end of the first half at Jackson State last year.
“My leg’s getting a lot stronger,” Strickland said. “I’ve been lifting a lot with (former NFL kicker) John Carney, and he’s definitely showed me a lot of different workouts to help me strengthen my leg. I definitely can push it back to the high 50s.”
Special teams coordinator Phil Cole believes nothing in Strickland’s mechanics hindered his ability last year.
“He’s definitely an NFL kicker,” Cole said. “He works out with John Carney. He’s got the frame to be a good NFL kicker. He’s one of the best ones we’ve had since I’ve been there.”
Strickland has this season remaining to make a case for the pros. He and senior punter Dylan Neiheiser will keep the Golden Lions’ kicking game going, but things may change in the return game.
Four first-year UAPB players, Dekian Clinch, John Hawkins, Marvante King and Lawrence Mosley, are auditioning for the kick return role. Junior Andre Mitchell, who was the return specialist the past two seasons, is expected a see a bigger role at defensive end but will continue to field punts, Cole said.
A local addition is serving as an understudy to Strickland this season, as Pine Bluff High alumnus Jairo Ledesma has joined as a preferred walk-on.
“He’s similar to how I was in high school,” Strickland said. “Just a soccer background; didn’t know much about kicking. He’s learning all the fundamentals, techniques and he’s stepping in with the weight program. After this year, you’ll definitely see some improvements from high school to college.”