It’s quite possibly the loneliest position on the football team.
Sitting and waiting. Standing and pacing. He barely sees the field. But when he does, it’s all on him.
Many times, the fate of a game, or even a season, can rest solely on the foot of a kicker.
Carson Wiggs knows it.
“When you miss a kick, especially something that you make every day in practice over and over again, it’s just demoralizing,” Wiggs said at Big Ten media days in July. “You practice that all year round and then you get in the game and you miss it. It’s like you let yourself down, and you let your team down as well when you make that kick every single day.”
It’s often the most overlooked position, but unlike every other oft-forgotten job, there’s so much riding on its performance.
When Wiggs, a senior place-kicker at Purdue, makes a kick it means he did his job. He did what he’s supposed to do. There’s no celebration, there’s no grand anointing. But when he misses a kick, he’s the one to blame.
The majority of the making a kick is mental, Wiggs said.
A kicker has to tune out the players seven yards away from him on the other team as they’re yelling all sorts of taunts at him. They’re trying to get into the kicker’s head while at the same time he’s just trying to get the clutter out of his own.
“You have to block them out while at the same time remember to go through the steps of your kick, remembering your technique and making sure that you follow your technique throughout the whole kick,” Wiggs said.
It wasn’t that long ago, though, that the Grand Prairie, Texas native had no technique to even remember. No steps to make sure he followed or didn’t follow.
Through seventh, eighth, and even ninth grade, for the most part coaches simply told Wiggs to kick the football as hard and as far as he could. He knew no technique. He had no formal kicking training, just a lifetime of playing soccer.
Soccer is a fast-paced sport. A player receives the ball, knocks it around and works it up the field.
But kicking, it’s very precise, like that of a sniper, Wiggs said.
When he played football, Wiggs played as a cornerback. But it just so happened that he was the only soccer player on South Grand Prairie High School’s football team and they needed someone for the extra points. So he was the guy.
Eventually, when he and his coaches noticed he had the leg for it, Wiggs began working with former NFL kicker with the Washington Redskins Scott Blanton.
And from there he took off.
Ranked as No. 4 kicker nationally by ESPN.com and No. 11 by Rivals.com, Wiggs was an honorable mention all-state and first team all-district as both punter and kicker his senior season of high school. In his career, he made 15 of 23 field goals and 67 of 69 PAT attempts.
Now he’s playing for the Boilermakers, and ranks first in program history for career field goal percentage at .715 (37-51) and third with 37 field goals. He also owns the top four longest field goals in school history (59, 55, 53 and 52), not including a 67-yarder he made during a spring game earlier this year.
Wiggs works at his craft much more than he ever did. Along with Purdue’s special teams coordinator J.B. Gibboney, a former kicker in college, he’s taught by nationally-recognized kicking instructor Chris Sailer.
They look at the film of him, as well as that of some of the best kickers in the game.
He studies former Nebraska kicker and the NCAA record holder for the most accurate kicker of all-time, Alex Henery. The now-Philadelphia Eagle has near perfect technique, Wiggs said, and he’s always looking to take a little something from him.
“I don’t watch it to say, ‘Oh, sweet he made another long one,’ ” Wiggs said. “I always watch like, ‘Oh, wow, how were his steps? How did he strike the ball? How does his technique look?’ I’m always comparing it to myself.”
But sometimes, that technique is thrown out or changed depending on where Wiggs is kicking and how disruptive the weather is.
Like when Wiggs played at Iowa his freshman year and he looked at one side of the field and the flags are pointing toward midfield, so he’s kicking against the wind that way. But then he looked at the other end zone and those flags are pointing toward the 50-yard line as well.
Or like in his home stomping grounds of Ross-Ade Stadium, where the wind has swirled so much that Wiggs looked up at the flag on the right upright on the north side of the field, and it was completely still, while the left one was straight up in the air.
“It’s just one of the things of how do you judge that?” Wiggs said. “Is the wind stronger that way or is it stronger closer to you? It’s all those kind of things.”
But Wiggs is not alone when he deals with the swirls and gusts of collegiate football stadiums. All kickers deal with the same struggles, and it’s that bond of struggling that creates a union of kickers.
From Mitch Ewald at Indiana, to former Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber, to former UCLA Bruin and now-Dallas Cowboy Kai Forbath, Wiggs keeps in touch with many of the kickers he meets at camps and such.
“We’ll text each other after the game,” Wiggs said. “ ‘Hey, how’d you do? Oh man, I saw that kick on ESPN, it was awesome.’ It’s a really tight fraternity.”
Like Forbath and like Henery, Wiggs hopes that his talents will eventually land him a job in the NFL.
But until then, Wiggs will simply try to keep his head about him. Trying to stay focused on a game, on a position where the opponent’s main goal is to try to make him lose it.
“You go out there and some of those times you feel your leg, it’s feeling alive,” Wiggs said. “I just want to go out there and kick the long 60-yarders. But then I need to work on my consistency. I need to make sure I’m focused and watch my technique.”