Kick by Liberty’s Lunsford earns national attention

Posted by kornblue - April 16, 2015

Javan Shashaty wasn’t terribly nervous until he looked down.

Shashaty is one of two Liberty backup quarterbacks, and he also fills a vital role on special teams. He’s the holder on field-goal attempts. And it wasn’t until he took a peek down that the gravity of the kick John Lunsford was going to try hit him.

“I’ve never lined up to hold a kick on the log,” he said. “Once I looked down and saw I was going to put the ball on the beak of the bird, it was a little nerve wracking.”

Lunsford’s 60-yard, game-tying field goal against Richmond matched the sixth longest kick in FCS history and was the longest made field goal in the subdivision in 14 years. He was well aware of how important the kick was in the moment. The second it slipped past the crossbar and hit the back of the goalpost, he sprinted around the Williams Stadium turf celebrating with the rest of his teammates.

Later that night, at home with his wife and daughter, Lunsford was unwinding when he got a call from his brother, telling him he was on ESPN’s SportsCenter. The kick was the No. 4 play on the program’s Top 10 plays of Saturday.

“That’s when I started to get phone calls and text messages from family and friends,” Lunsford said. “That’s when the news got out. It was such an honor. I’ve always thought about it. What if I was ever on SportsCenter for anything? For any sport? What a blessing that would be. The top athletes are on there all the time. And that’s what I’m striving to be.”

Lunsford earned the Big South’s special teams player of the week award Monday, along with co-national special teams player of the week honors from The Sports Network. And the fact that he made the kick shouldn’t much of a surprise to anyone, especially to Richmond coach Danny Rocco, who helped recruit Lunsford to LU before leaving to coach the Spiders.

Lunsford drilled a 57-yard kick against Bryant on Sept. 20, breaking a 30-year-old school record by four yards. He one-upped himself Saturday, but he wasn’t the only player in on the kick.

Like anything in football, it’s a team effort. Richmond’s squib kick was fielded and quickly downed in the middle of the field, giving the Flames 7.7 seconds and one timeout with which to work. The Spiders understandably triple teamed top LU receiver Darrin Peterson, leaving the middle of the field wide open.

“In that situation, they were probably expecting a deep ball to an outside guy,” Liberty quarterback Josh Woodrum said. “Gabe just kind of found a hole right down the middle. We practice that play all the time. We executed it really well. That was a great job by the offense getting us in a position to tie the game.”

Leg strength has never been an issue for Lunsford. Accuracy was early in the season, though that has stabilized in the Flames’ last two games. Lunsford began his high-school career as a soccer player, either working at goalkeeper or as a defender. After his sophomore year, he began working with renowned kicking coach Brandon Kornblue, who convinced him to give football a shot.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Lunsford loved soccer, and he thought he might have a future playing it at the college or professional level. But during a spring football game, he booted a 49-yard field goal, showing his natural ability. Between that and Kornblue’s coaching, he was able to extend his range even further, banging home a 58-yard kick as a high-school senior.

One of the key points Kornblue taught Lunsford was that every kick is the same, whether it’s an extra point, a 35 yarder or a 60 yarder. The technique can’t change. You either have the natural ability, the leg and hip strength, to connect from a long distance or you don’t. That’s why often when a kicker tries a kick far out of his range, he’ll put extra oomph behind the ball, throwing his mechanics out of whack.

Lunsford’s delivery remains the same on every kick, and that consistency gives LU head coach Turner Gill the confidence to call on him in situations that most college coaches don’t have. Gill said he would have tried Lunsford anywhere inside of 65 yards on Saturday. More impressive: Lunsford’s kick came with a light wind in his face.

“It felt good not to have to go 40 yards to get into legitimate field-goal range,” Gill said. “It’s a good thing that we have in our repertoire.”

EXTRA POINTS: Liberty will be without cornerback Wesley Scott (hamstring) for Saturday’s game at Appalachian State. Also confirmed out are linebackers Nick Sigmon (shoulder) and Jimmy O’Grady (arm), along with running back Todd Macon (ankle). … Liberty is ranked 35th in the Gridiron Power Index (GPI), which is a measure of how the FCS teams stand in a composite of the national polls and computer rankings. The Big South is ranked as the No. 2 conference in the GPI, behind only the powerful Missouri Valley. … Liberty has committed no turnovers in its three wins this year but is minus-5 in turnover margin in its three losses.

Published by:The News & Advance
Wrote by: Chris Lang
October 7, 2014