Entering fall practice, three kickers were fighting it out to decide who would be the starter. Redshirt freshman Stephen Hoge was the frontrunner, and the assumed replacement for Scott Webb, with fellow redshirt freshman Jacob Branstetter the reserve plan. And then there was Grady Fowler, a junior college transfer from Butler Community College, the backup to the reserve plan and, likely, the last option for the coaching staff. It isn't that he is noticably worse than either Hoge or Branstetter. Up until now, they have all been relatively equal in practice, with no one separating themselves from the field. Still, Grady Fowler isn't on scholarship, and his transfer from the junior college ranks to the University of Kansas went almost entirely unnoticed. In all honesty, he has been just a name for me up until this moment; just a kicker who has a slim chance of ever actually walking onto the AstroPlay of Memorial Stadium and kicking the football. But now, with the recent news of Stephen Hoge's transfer and Jacob Branstetter's potential eligibility problems, Grady Fowler has been thrust into the spotlight.
Of course, Branstetter's unavailability is purely speculative at this point, and it is certainly possible, even likely, that it is all nothing and that the battle will simply be between Branstetter and Fowler, with Branstetter likely having the edge. Still, no matter how well spun, this quote is pretty clear that, at the very best, there are some questions to be answered regarding his eligibility:
A source with knowledge of the situation said Monday that Branstetter’s ability to kick for KU is also in question because of eligibility issues stemming from his transfer from Air Force Academy.
So, to be on the safe side, let's assume, at least for now, that he is a no-go eligibility wise. And, given that assumption, we are left with Mr. Grady Fowler to handle the place-kicking duties. And if Grady Fowler is the starting kicker of the Kansas football team, he probably should be more than 'just a name' to me.
So, with that said, here are some quick facts about Mr. Fowler:
- Height: 5'9"
- Weight: 186
- Played QB (and K) in High School (at Chase County HS)
- 8 of 12 on FGs, 53 of 55 on XPs, Longest FG: 41 Yards at Butler Community College
- Originally committed to play at Emporia State before leaving the team for "personal reasons" and transferring to BCC
OK, moving beyond the Fun Facts, those JUCO statistics kind of worry me. The accuracy is fine, I suppose, but the long of 41 yards isn't fine. I mean, I'm not as worried as not being able to attempt field goals from a kabillion miles away as I am of that being a pretty terrible indicator of his ability to kickoff. Another curious little tidbit, this time discussing the actual FGs themselves, is that seven of them were made in the first three games of the season. Maybe that is just a quirk of an improving offense (they did score at least 55 TDs on the season), but it also might indicate a lack of trust in the FG kicker. I'm all for the small town, 5'9" kicker and all of the good stories it provides, but if a Community College doesn't trust him to nail the three-pointers, I don't want to have to trust him either. Of course, if that's the case, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that: a) He was named Honorable Mention JUCO All-American and b) Why he would even have a spot on this team. So, despite the one potential detractor, he seems to be perfectly capable at drilling the under-40 field goals, which is really all he should be expected to do. If we really have a grand desire to have a Mason Crosby-type leg (not a bad desire, if we have a scholarship available in the class) then we can pick one up in the Class of 2009, but otherwise I think we could do just fine with an accurate kicker inside the 25-yard line.
However, how well he does on kickoffs is largely a mystery. Of course, we could use the potentially eligible Jacob Branstetter on kickoffs, or even punter Alonso Rojas, but it could also be Grady Fowler. However, the above-linked Emporia State article claims that in his redshirt season he was offered to do kickoffs, which means that he has to be at least passable at it. Now, passable for the MIAA is just slightly different than the Big 12, but still.
In short, here are some answers to the question 'Who is Grady Fowler?': He is a solid kicker inside the 25-yard line (under 40ish yards in FG distance) and is near-money on XP's. His kickoff abilities are probably averageish (kickoffs to the 10), although it is mostly an unknown. He is probably pretty athletic, with him playing QB in High School and all, even if not a single letter was sent his direction because of his quarterbacking abilities. But, given all of that, he is still a mostly unknown kicker who could play a vital role on this year's team. Not in a positive way, as it is near impossible for a kicker alone to make an already good football team substantially better. But in a negative way. If he is successful this season he will still be largely unknown, with the casual fans hardly knowing his name. But that is all we need for him to be, to not screw it up and to make the kicks he should make. We just need for him to do his job at a reasonable level and make few, if any, 'bad' plays.
Hopefully, that is exactly who Grady Fowler is.