When senior Brandon McManus dons his helmet and jogs onto the football field for a game winning field goal attempt, he feels nothing.
The four-year Temple starting kicker is as comfortable with the game on the line as he is helping out with a food drive in inner city Philadelphia. McManus was recently named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes an exclusive group of college football players for their community work off the field.
When he lines up for a field goal, McManus has a heart of stone. The away fans try to distract him with noise. The home fans try to support him with silence. His teammates watch from the sidelines, many exhausted from playing 59 minutes to get McManus this kick.
Most kickers wouldn’t be tired, but McManus isn’t most kickers. He is one of eight players in the country who handles all kicking duties. He’s on the field for kickoffs, punts and field goals.
He’ll constantly stay warm on the sidelines for whenever the Owls need him on the field. For McManus, it’s a battle of isolating the different techniques.
“Punting is a very vertical technique,” McManus said. “In kicking, your legs go up and through the ball and you come across your body. Luckily I have time on the sideline to warmup and really drive into my mind what I have to do with each specific kick.”
McManus has mentally prepared for three game-winning field goal situations in his collegiate career. He’s made every one.
“I don’t really get that stressed out about [kicking] much,” McManus said. “It’s your job out there to do that. It does take confidence to do that, but you really have to block [the nerves] out and embrace the pressure.”
By controlling his emotions and working to become more accurate in the summer, McManus has achieved extraordinary consistency as Temple’s long-time kicker. So far this season, he has twice received Honorable Mention Specialist of the Week honors from the College Football Performance Awards. He is second on Temple’s all-time points list, 40 points — 14 field goals — away from breaking the record of his friend Bernard Pierce, who recently graduated from Temple before the Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
For four seasons now, McManus has given Temple a reliable scoring option when the Owls are inside or approaching the redzone. He’s only missed one field goal in his career from inside the redzone — a blocked kick against Maryland on Sept. 8.
“Kicking field goals, anytime you’re within the redzone or within the 30-yard line, it should be almost automatic,” McManus said.
As a punter, McManus said he would get almost as much enjoyment from pinning a team inside the 5-yard line as he got from making a 53-yard field goal against Villanova in 2010. It was the longest make of his career.
McManus said a punter’s role in his team’s battle for field position is important. In 2011 — his first season as Temple’s full-time punter, he landed 15 of 46 punts inside the 20-yard line.
When Temple plays Penn State on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, the Owls will be at a disadvantage in nearly every position matchup except for kicker and punter.
Penn State sophomore kicker Sam Ficken has missed four field goals and two extra points in the first three games of the season. Despite his struggles, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said Ficken will be the starting kicker Saturday.
How much Ficken will actually play is a different story.
After his nightmare performance against Virginia, Ficken did not attempt a field goal against Navy. In fact, Penn State went for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from Navy’s 8-yard line — a situation where most teams would try for the three points.
“I mean, at the end the day, it’s fourth down and fourth-and-eight,” O’Brien said. “Let’s go. Let’s let it all out there. You’ve got a good play call, let’s call it and see if we can score. I don’t think twice about any of that.”
O’Brien added that he would have gone for that fourth down opportunity even if Ficken wasn’t struggling.
“I talk to Sam all the time,” O’Brien said. “I have belief in Sam. It’s just at that point in time, I felt good about that play call from that yard line, the hash mark that we were on, the time in the game, so I don’t think it has anything to do with confidence with Sam.”
Fullback Michael Zordich echoed the players’ sentiments when he said they expect to reach the first down on fourth downs, but he has faith in the defense should the Lions fail to convert.
At the same time, Zordich said Ficken is in a tough situation, and he has handled it well.
“He’s working hard after a game like Virginia,” Zordich said. “It’s hard to bounce back, and that’s a spot where everyone is watching you and expecting you do something.
“We’ll help him out as much as we can.”
McManus doesn’t think Penn State’s fourth down strategy is a disadvantage, but he said not having a trustworthy kicker when you’re in range could become problematic because three points is often the difference.
McManus’ advice for Ficken is that he should tune out the outside pressure and view his struggles as a slump he can overcome.
“It’s his first year, and it’s probably hard at such a big university that has had some good kickers in the past,” McManus said. “You’re going to get a lot of publicity about what you’ve done, but you really have to stick to what you’re doing.
“He’s there for a reason, and he’s pretty good if he’s kicking at Penn State. He’ll be able to get through this, and I’m sure he’ll be able to do some big things for Penn State.”