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For Wisconsin specialists, precision, timing and a short memory are needed vs. Nebraska

A look inside the operation of Wisconsin’s field goal unit.

Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

MADISON — 1.3 seconds.

That’s the timed goal for Wisconsin Badgers specialists from Connor Udelhoven’s snap to the Andrew Endicott’s kick, according to holder Connor Allen. That doesn’t include accounting for their blockers in front of them, attempting to stop the mad rush of defenders enveloping and sprinting past the line of scrimmage to block the field goal or extra-point attempt.

There’s a science and art to placekicking, one that requires precision but a feeling many outside of playing the game don’t know about. For Wisconsin’s specialists, the work they put in behind the scenes isn’t seen to most, sometimes even out of sight of the rest of the team.

According to Allen, the specialists will get five or six reps with the team during practice, but then head back into the McClain Center for more drills. Udelhoven, Allen and Endicott—Wisconsin’s first-team longsnapper, holder and placekicker—will then practice 10 to 15 more kicks from snap to foot.

“Personally, I’ll get about 100 holds a day,” Allen said on Tuesday. “[Udelhoven] will get as many snaps as he needs to feel comfortable with. If ‘Endi’ wants to do more timing work, then we’ll do that where he doesn’t have to kick the ball but we work on the timing and the flow on it.”

All three walked on to the program, and all three are from different states. Udelhoven, a St. Paul, Minn., native, has been the starting longsnapper on extra points and field goals since the 2013 season.

Allen is an in-state kid from New Berlin who admitted he never held a ball in his life before coming to UW. Last season, outgoing punter and holder Drew Meyer took the now-redshirt freshman under his wing. With the position up for grabs after Meyer’s departure following the season, the former Brookfield East punter admitted “I worked my butt off” during spring practices to land the job.

For Endicott, the California native has been a mainstay on the Wisconsin roster since the 2013 season, but mainly as a kickoff specialist. This season, redshirt sophomore P.J. Rosowski has taken over that role primarily with great success, but the senior—like many walk-ons before him—has stepped up when other opportunities have come.

Junior placekicker Rafael Gaglianone was ruled out the Thursday before the Michigan State game due to a back injury. A week later, the Brazilian native and charismatic specialist would have surgery that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Insert Endicott, who would have to be relied upon after not attempting an extra point or field goal in his Wisconsin career.

The trio has worked together to try to not miss a beat in Gaglianone’s absence, who converted seven of eight field-goal attempts before his season-ending setback and appeared to return to the form seen in his freshman year where he went 19-for-22. Allen admitted there was a slight adjustment with the tilt of the ball being held between Gaglianone and Endicott’s preference, but it was modified quickly.

“I’m definitely in a much better rhythm with Connor and ‘Uds’ than I was a month ago,” Endicott said on Tuesday. “We do a lot of dry runs with ‘Udy’ snapping, and I’ll just time it up and try to find that trigger of what tells me to get going. We’ve done it thousands of times since Michigan State week, so I have all the confidence Connor, in ‘Uds.’

“The big thing we talk about from me is being smooth in my approach. I tend to get a little erratic when I start approaching the ball too fast, and get off times that are too fast, and a lot of complicated stuff that people probably wouldn’t think about, because looking at my film, most of my swings pretty much look the same. It’s just approaching the ball the same way.”

Overall, Endicott has converted five of seven field-goal attempts and eight of nine extra points. He admitted it’s been a “roller coaster” type of season with kicking three field goals against then-No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago in a 30-23 overtime loss, but then missing two on the road against Iowa last week in UW’s 17-9 win.

On Wisconsin’s first offensive series, Endicott didn’t connect on his 32-yard attempt, sailing it wide right. He admitted he tried to guide the ball and was tentative with his swing. With the 52-yard kick, he conceded he felt good about the kick and wouldn’t have changed much with his approach.

Endicott did redeem himself later in the game with a 36-yard field goal to give Wisconsin a 17-6 lead with 1:24 remaining in the game. The highs and lows experienced in back-to-back games have served as a great lesson to build off of.

“I was pretty disappointed in that, but that’s the great thing about football and being a kicker is it doesn’t matter what you did the week before. Each day is a new day, and good or bad, it doesn’t matter anymore,” said Endicott, who stated his range for field goals extends 50-to-55 yards. “Iowa doesn’t care that I went 3-for-3 against Ohio State or anything. I think struggling will lead to better things because now I’ve gone into a week going 3-for-3, and attacked it that way, going into this week 1-for-3, really just trying to approach the week the same way and obviously try to have a better performance Saturday.

“I don’t really assess my performance based on the fact I was the No. 2 field goal kicker. When I go out there, I expect to make it, whether it’s 32 or 52 [yards]. I don’t expect any sympathy or anything like that from fans. I’m out there to make kicks.”

The specialists at Wisconsin are a tight-knit group, as Allen noted they’re all close friends on and off the field. It’s a tight-knit fraternity of players that know the intricacies in each kick, each punt, each snap.

There’s also a bond between specialists across the nation, especially between Nebraska and Wisconsin’s players. Endicott noted that Gaglianone, Udelhoven and Meyer were closer to former Huskers punter Sam Foltz, who died in a car accident with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler in late July after working a specialists camp near Waukesha, Wis. Gaglianone will honor his fallen friend by walking onto the field Saturday with Nebraska’s Drew Brown holding Foltz’s jersey.

The placekicker considered Foltz a good friend and described him as someone who, after meeting him once, you feel like like you’ve known him your whole life. Endicott also said the tragedy has brought him closer together in friendship with Brown.

There will be a time for the players to meet and embrace on the field, but for the kicker, he’s also trying to keep focused on his performance in a primetime matchup.

“For me, it’s been an emotional week so far,” Endicott said, “trying to balance out personal feelings and being ready to execute for the team. I’m just trying to approach it like a normal game, and I think it’ll be pretty easy until Saturday pregame when I go out there for the first time and I see Drew [Brown] and some of the other guys.

“I think it’s kind of going to hit me, but I’m going to try to keep that separate from the game.”