Yelk hopes to fill void in kicking game

Zac Reicks

The ISU football team began its first day of spring practice Wednesday with many positions wide open after heavy losses due to graduation.

While there will be many question marks on the defensive side of the ball and at quarterback, one of the biggest position battles will take place in the kicking game.

Gone from last year’s 9-3 squad is senior Carl Gomez, who stepped in and admirably handled the PAT and field goal duties while also being in charge of punting. With Mike McKnight graduating, this year’s kicking battle will be wide open.

“There will be about three to four kids that will be in the mix along with walk-ons,” said head coach Dan McCarney. “We also have Troy Blankenship coming in on scholarship this fall so there is some good talent and potential here, but we’ve got to find out who our best punter and kicker is this spring.”

The man who looks to be first in line for the job will be sophomore Tony Yelk. As a freshman on last year’s team, Yelk only saw action in the first game against Ohio.

Though he managed to miss his only extra point try of the season, he will undoubtedly be ready to make an impact when fall rolls around.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is how much more kicking is a mental battle than a physical battle,” Yelk said. “I have also realized that there is going to be competition every day for every position, and you have to be trying your hardest all the time.”

Being a native of Wisconsin, Yelk is no stranger to extremely frigid winter temperatures. That did not stop him from getting valuable work in each week to help try and shore up one of the major weaknesses on last year’s team.

“I felt that all of the kickers worked really hard through winter workouts. I myself was very pleased with the progress I made,” Yelk said. “I did my share of kicking during the winter and while I didn’t hit a lot of balls, I did get a lot of quality reps in and made some improvement.”

One of the main things that McCarney will have his kickers working on this spring will be gaining confidence. Everyone last year saw how a lack of confidence basically cost McKnight his starting job, and that is something that has to be rectified this year.

“I feel confident heading into spring practice,” Yelk said. “The first attribute you need to have as a kicker is to be confident in your abilities, and that is something I am always trying to get better at.”

Usually, on the first day of practice players can be expected to be a little rusty as a long winter break tends to have an affect on an athlete.

But over near the goal posts where the kickers were working out, there was a small glimmer of hope in just what the future could hold.

“Tony Yelk was three for three on field goals so that is a good way to start the spring,” McCarney said.

While Yelk might have a leg up on his fellow kickers, he knows that competition will be stiff throughout spring and fall practice.

“You always have to respect your competition and realize that they are trying as hard as you are,” Yelk said. “I think it will be good competition throughout the spring, and we will just see where the chips fall.”