Clemson’s Greg Huegel rose from fill-in, “grocery store kicker” to leading the nation in field goals during the Tigers run to the College Football Playoffs. Now, he’s working to become more versatile and stay among the game’s best.
“Last year, I was a lot more nervous going into the season,” Huegel said. “The biggest change is going from a lot of nerves to living up to the expectations.”
And there are plenty for Huegel, who led the Football Bowl Subdivison with 27 field goals. His 138 points topped all kickers and set Clemson’s single-season scoring mark.
Huegel knows he’s got a big role to live up to in the Tigers’ potent attack.
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“If I was able to perform in those situations last year, I’m just hoping I can do it to the same extent this year,” said Huegel, a third-year sophomore.
There were few expectations for Clemson’s kicking game early on after senior starter Ammon Lakip was suspended for three contests following a misdemeanor drug arrest in June 2015.
Huegel, a walk-on who coach Dabo Swinney dubbed his “grocery store kicker” after watching him kick a can at a Bi-Lo, impressed Clemson’s coaches with his accuracy and toughness in camp – he was once a hard-hitting safety on the JV team at Blythewood High in Columbia – and earned the starting job.
Huegel made four of five field goal tries and all 13 extra points in those three games and maintained the job when Lakip’s suspension ended.
“Huegel is our starter. He’s earned that,” Swinney said in the week leading up to Clemson’s season-shaping victory over Notre Dame.
Huegel took confidence from Swinney’s move and played a huge part in a 24-22 win over the Irish, converting all three extra points and hitting a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that provided the winning margin.
Huegel had a run of 16 straight made field goals that lasted until Clemson’s 45-37 win over North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
Huegel continued his success in the playoffs with five of seven field goals in a 37-17 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and a 45-40 loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
Huegel’s spent this summer working on his long game. He talked with former Clemson kicker (now with the Arizona Cardinals) Chandler Catanzaro, who got him hooked on yoga.
“I put my body in positions that I’ve never been put in before,” Huegel said. “It was pretty uncomfortable.”
Huegel said he’s gained mental and physical discipline from yoga, helping him strike the ball better and become more consistent on long kicks.
While Huegel hit 27 of 32 field goals, four of those misses were from 44 yards or longer and never attempted a kick over 50 yards.
These days, Huegel feels confident from beyond 50 yards and hopes to consistently put kickoffs into the end zone this season after having just 10 touchbacks last fall.
“Last summer, my focus was to be the most consistent kicker you can be,” Huegel said. “This year, my main focus was working on long field goals and I’ve seen some additions to my yardage.”
Huegel was selected as the all-ACC kicker at the preseason football gathering last month and is on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, given to the game’s top kicker. All things few saw coming a year ago.
“To be considered in other people’s eyes to be one of the best in the nation, that’s really nice,” Huegel said.