By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Bryson Rose could see his opportunity coming, but he wasn’t content to sit back and let it come. He wanted to help it along.
A former walk-on, Rose last season was the backup place-kicker to Joshua Shene, a four-year starter at Ole Miss and an All-SEC performer.
Now Rose is the leading candidate in what appears to be a two-player race as the Rebels must find a new kicker for the first time since 2006.
Another former walk-on, David Hankins is also in the mix. Hankins, a junior, handled kickoffs in the Cotton Bowl following the 2008 season when starter Justin Sparks became ill.
“Bryson and David are the two guys standing out right now, and we’ve been very happy with what we’ve seen so far,” special teams coordinator James Shibest said. “They’ve consistently been the most accurate, and they will probably be the top two guys going into camp, but we won’t know anything till they get in a game and kick a field goal.”
Rose has the most placement-kick experience of anyone on the roster, but it does not include a field goal attempt. He was 2 for 2 on extra points last season against Southeastern Louisiana, the first action of his college career.
He converted all three attempts in last Friday’s scrimmage, scoring from 45, 41 and 41 yards. Those kicks were against a half-hearted rush and not, as Shibest noted, in a game.
The lack of experience prompted Rose to seek an additional edge in the competition, and in February, just before the start of spring drills, he visited noted kicking consultant Gary Zauner near Scottsdale, Ariz.
“He taught me a lot,” Rose said.
More specifically, he worked with Rose on starting and finishing kicks on balance and with mechanics that helped him keep from pulling his kicks one direction or the other.
“I think he has excellent potential,” Zauner said. “He has good pop and gets the ball off quickly. He had a tendency to push or pull, and we talked about what he was doing that caused that.”
Zauner has worked with kickers for 35 years, 13 of those as special teams coordinator for three different NFL clubs, Minnesota, Baltimore and Arizona. He’s coached collegiately as well. One of the recent success stories from his consultant work is New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley.
“All these guys have flaws,” Zauner said. “Bryson was impressive. He had a couple of minor fundamental flaws that needed correcting.”
Rose earned all-district honors as a senior at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, N.C., where his kickoffs reached the end zone 85 percent of the time, and he connected on field goals of 54 and 51 yards as a senior.
“I feel pretty comfortable from 55 yards and in to be honest,” Rose said. “When I first got here I learned the ropes from Josh. He taught me a little bit about how to handle pressure, one kick at a time.”
Shibest has been pleased to see Rose work toward the opportunity and not just wait for it.
“He’s older now, and you can tell he’s confident. He knew he was the backup with Josh here, even though we keep that as open as we can,” Shibest said. “Now he sees this as his opportunity, and he’s taking advantage of it. You can tell he really worked hard before we started practice.”