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Badgers kicker battle between Collin Larsh and Jack Van Dyke will continue through fall camp
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Badgers kicker battle between Collin Larsh and Jack Van Dyke will continue through fall camp

From the Check out the State Journal's coverage of Wisconsin Badgers spring football practices series
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The decision of who will be the University of Wisconsin’s kicker next season won’t be made until late in fall camp.

That was made clear Friday by special teams coordinator Chris Haering. But he also let it be known that the winner of the competition between senior Collin Larsh and sophomore Jack Van Dyke will have earned the job; it won’t be given out by default.

“Both of them, I think, mentally are in a good place,” said senior punter Conor Schlichting, who is the holder in the kicking operation. “They're both confident, they both are competitive. They feel going into every kick that they're the best kicker here. That's how it should be.”

Senior Collin Larsh and sophomore Jack Van Dyke describe how they're approaching the battle for the starting kicking role.

Larsh has been the Badgers kicker since the start of the 2019 season, going 17 of 25 on field goals in his career. He’s 15 of 18 on tries inside 40 yards and 2 of 7 from 40 or more, and has made all but one of 77 point-after attempts.

Van Dyke joined the team last season and served as the kickoff specialist, but hasn’t attempted a place-kick yet.

Last Saturday, the Badgers’ last spring practice that was open to reporters, Van Dyke made a 35-yard kick from the left hash and a 46 yarder from the right hash early in practice. Larsh tried the same kicks and made the first. Later in the morning, Van Dyke was good from 36 twice and 43, while Larsh made his only attempt from 33 yards out.

Both struggled at practice April 10, missing multiple kicks inside 40 yards.

Haering said the winner will being making kicks in practice, but also performing well in side drills and other kicking opportunities. His belief is that one player will win the position and the job won’t be split into one handling shorter kicks and the other going for longer tries.

“Yes, making more kicks in practice (matters),” he said.

“We chart everything, we chart what they do when they're kicking with just the operation working, and then we also chart those team reps. A very important part of it, too, is when we go red zone scrimmaging offense versus defense, and we get into those field-goal situations, trot those guys out there and see who can function with that kind of pressure on. So it's really a holistic approach, all of it counts.”

Larsh, a Monona Grove High School product, said he’s reached out to former NFL kicker John Carney for advice on how he can supplement the training he’s doing with UW to add leg strength. Larsh has added certain power lifts to his regimen, as well as extra flexibility and swing-pattern work.

“It's a business, is what a lot of people don't understand at this level. The person who's best at the job is going to do it,” Larsh said. “You can't be thinking about that stuff before kicks, after kicks.

“Me and Jack are pushing each other every day to get better. Me and him are good friends off the field, too, so I mean, it's nice to not have the animosity towards each other through it all and be able to support each other and help each other out.”

Van Dyke, who hails from Neenah, shared a similar sentiment to his relationship with Larsh. He said he’s ready for the months-long position battle and is focusing on maintaining his confidence throughout the process.

“For me, mostly it's just treating every kick the same,” Van Dyke said. “Whether I’m kicking a PAT or I'm backing up to 51 in the rain, like everything is going to be the same. And then another thing I've been focusing on, especially during spring ball, is having the right mindset every morning. So when I wake up in the morning, I get out of bed, I choose to have a good day. It's a choice every day.”

Two returners back

With the returns of senior receivers Danny Davis and Jack Dunn, the Badgers have two of their most frequent punt returners of the past two seasons ready. Add in sophomore cornerback Dean Engram, who handled the most punts in 2020, and UW has a number of options.

They’ll all likely see time if the Badgers’ trend of deploying two punt returners continues. Most full punt return drills during spring practices have had two returners deep, a tactic that Dunn says allows UW to protect itself from losing hidden yardage.

“A lot of that kind of just depends on what type of punt unit we're going up against,” Dunn said. “We've got a lot of guys in our conference and non-conference opponents we play that obviously do a lot of rugby-style punts. So when you put two returners back there, it makes it a lot more difficult for them to just spray it around the field and get that extra roll from it landing on the ground.

“You can save a lot of hidden yardage just by staying in front of a ball or catching it and getting a fair catch and keeping it from rolling, especially against teams like that. So I think that gives us a little bit of flexibility."

Receivers Devin Chandler and Stephan Bracey will also be in the mix as punt and kick returners, Haering said.

Adding a snapper

Sophomore Peter Bowden will replace Adam Bay as the Badgers’ long-snapper next season, but the lack of depth behind him is a concern.

Haering said that freshman Duncan McKinley tore his ACL early in spring practices and won’t be available this fall. Junior linebacker Marty Strey has been snapping during practices to provide an emergency option, but Haering — one of the Badgers’ lead recruiters, especially for in-state prospects — said the program will look to add another snapper to the 2021 recruiting class this summer.

For now, Bowden has been a steady presence in the snapping role.

“Pete's done a tremendous job. Adam’s going to be big shoes to fill, but Pete can do it,” Haering said. “And the nice thing that Pete has the advantage of being two years into the program and getting a lot of reps even though he wasn't playing on Saturdays in the fall.”


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