Ryan Fowler won’t allow himself to get too comfortable. Never mind that he has settled in as Vanderbilt’s starting kicker and the majority of his college career remains ahead of him.
“It’s kind of comforting,” he said. “But still I know I need to go out there and perform for my team.” R
The redshirt-freshman took over this fall for Bryant Hahnfeldt, a four-year starter who completed his career last fall as the Commodores’ all-time leading scorer.
Eight games into this season, Fowler’s start is reminiscent of his predecessor’s. In fact, the most pronounced difference between the two thus far is that Fowler had to wait a year whereas Hahnfeldt got the job as a true freshman.
“Last year was really nice, I got to redshirt behind Bryant, but I got to still travel with the team,” he said. “So that was nice to still get to go to the stadiums.”
Fowler has made nine of 14 field goal attempts overall. After he missed his first two tries in the season-opener against Western Carolina, he has made nine of his last 12.
He made at least one in each of the last three games and as many as three in one game (Rice).
Hahnfeldt missed five field goal attempts during his freshman season, when he went 12-for-17 overall. His single-game high that year also was three.
“Game experience is nice, and it was nice to get that Western Carolina game out of the way,” Fowler said. “LSU was even nice too. That was a huge stadium.”
Fowler already has shown that he can make a clutch kick too. He forced overtime and matched his career-long with a 41-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation at Army.
Hahnfeldt, of course, ended his career with a game-winning field goal in the Music City Bowl.
“I think (Fowler) is going to be a good kicker,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “He is also developing a strong leg … on kickoffs, and that is pretty good. We feel like we have a good kicker.”
He and his staff first formed that impression when they saw Fowler, an all-state kicker in high school, at a local kicking camp.
“You go to these camps where coaches are just standing there and watching you kick, it’s very competitive,” Fowler said. “You meet a lot of guys and you build a lot of relationships, but at the same time it’s competitive.
“I was definitely looking for a scholarship somewhere.”
Now it seems Commodores’ fans will get used to seeing the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder for
Johnson proved over the previous four years that he is willing to be patient with a kicker. Hahnfeldt struggled as a sophomore and made fewer than half of his field goal attempts (8-17) but came back and made 13 field goals each of the last two seasons, which made him the first in program history to make more than 12 twice in a row.
Then again, kicker is not position at which teams typically can afford to have more than one or two scholarship players at a time.
“You try to make good decisions and then you got to stick with them,” Johnson said. “Of course, you have to have a backup plan and we do … but Ryan has kicked the best in practices so he needs to be kicking.”
That probably will be true for the next several seasons.
David Boclair, firstname.lastname@example.org