GW Graham grad booting balls for UBC football

Spencer Breslin is in the mix to kick field goals and punts for the U-Sports Thunderbirds.

The big right leg of Spencer Breslin is taking him to the U-Sports level this fall with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

The GW Graham grad worked out for the T-Birds in late May, kicking in front of UBC recruiting coordinator and special teams coach, Paul Orazietti.

“First I did punting, maybe 20 of them, followed by kickoffs, testing me for hang time and distance,” Breslin explained. “They finished with field goals, which is my strong suit, and I went nine-for-nine.

“They did 25 yards, left-middle-right, 35 yards, left-middle-right and 45 yards, left-middle-right.”

UBC head coach Blake Nill watched from the sidelines, met Breslin when he was done and extended an offer for him to come to fall camp and compete with two other kickers.

The 18 year old had workouts scheduled at other schools, but cancelled them all once UBC made an offer.

“My goal from day one has been to play football at UBC,” Breslin said. “It’s close to home and I love the campus.”

“They (UBC) have two other kickers, and I know one of them is going into year three or four, but I’m confident in my ability to compete with anyone.”

Incumbent kicker Greg Hutchins was 18 of 28 (64 per cent) on field goals last year.

“From what I understand they want at least 75 per cent on field goals, but I’ve heard he’s also a really good punter,” Breslin said. “This will be a little different for me because I’ve never had much competition and always been ‘the guy’ kicking in high school.

“It’ll be good having to actually compete. It’ll make me better and show how good I can become.”

On a sunny, crisp weekday morning at GW Graham, Breslin boomed punts into the air while coach Duncan O’Mahoney watched. O’Mahoney is a UBC grad and a former pro who kicked from 2001-07 with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions.

He and Breslin have been working to fine-tune the teenager’s mechanics.

“One punt for instance involves your shoulder, elbows and wrists,” O’Mahoney mused. “You’re using your ankle, knee and hip on one leg to plant and your ankle, knee and hip on the other leg rotating. It’s every lever in your body with a lot of moving parts.

“Kicking is a lot like golf where it’s a single repetition that you do over and over and over again.

“Some people have a lot of genetic ability, but they don’t have the mechanical control or knowledge to replicate a kick time and time again.

“That’s what Spencer’s starting to do.”

If he has a weakness, it’s his punting. Some kicks fly straight and true and some do not.

O’Mahoney preaches the concept of ‘good misses.’

In the past, Breslin’s mechanics were shaky enough that a missed kick would be a horrible 15 yard shank or slice.

He’s honed his form enough now that he can get away with a minor mechanical miscue and still hit it well.

“I have a few things I go over in my head before each kick,” Breslin said. “A big thing for me is kicking ‘smooth.’ because when I try to go too fast or too slow and sluggish, that’s when I make mistakes and the mechanics break down.”

A huge part of kicking is mental. When the outcome of a game rests on his foot, Breslin needs to feel confident that he’ll succeed.

Like a goaltender in hockey or a quarterback in football, kickers are quickly replaced if they wilt under pressure.

“As a kicker you want the game to come down to that, to have that opportunity to win a game,” Breslin said. “You know you’ve done it a million times on the practice field and now it’s a matter of bringing it over into the game and having confidence when you find yourself in that position.”

Easy to say. Much harder to do.

In a preseason game last year, kicking for the Grizzlies, Breslin missed an early convert attempt.

“Usually I’m pretty good hitting those and the whole game after that I was shaky,” Breslin recalled. “I let it get into my head and it was a big learning experience.

“You’ve just got to let it go, forget about it and move on to the next one.”

It is likely that Breslin will have to ‘red-shirt’ this season, working out with the team but not dressing for games.

It’s a matter of a teenager competing against men, needing to build up strength.

But when his time comes, he feels he’ll be ready.

“I’m going to get stronger which will only make me better,” he said. “I know I can already compete at the next level in place-kicking.

“With punting it’s just going to be putting in reps to be more consistent. That’s what I think I need and I’m confident I’ll get there soon.”

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