Kicker Andrew Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell will return for their fifth years of college football at Ole Miss after sitting out their fourth. A bit unusual? Yes. There’s really no questioning that.
But there was an important reason for doing so, according to first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, who joked a bit when it was brought up again this past weekend. Since his team made it through the season with arguably its best at those positions on the bench, he was relieved it worked out as much as anything.
“I got by with it,” said Freeze, laughing a little when admitting it. “I could have been raked over the coals on that, and I probably was by some people.”
But it was worth whatever it ultimately meant for the 2012 team. Because it should help the 2013 team, which was the goal all along.
“Just looking at the scholarship numbers, and kind of if we could get by with it, it would definitely give us some maturity for next year,” Freeze said of his evaluation of it earlier this year. “We’ve got two seniors that arguably will be as good a combo as any in our conference. So we’re very fortunate we were able to get by.”
Jim Broadway punted and Bryson Rose did the placekicking. Both were seniors, although Broadway had been out of the game for a while. Still both were solid enough that Freeze didn’t really have to ever rethink his decision. Rose had an excellent season, as expected, and kicked the game-winning field goal at Arkansas. Freshman Nathan Noble was in on kickoffs at some points this fall.
To Punt Or Not To Punt
The decision on Ritter came a little earlier than the one on Campbell. And a little easier, it appears.
As a matter of fact, the Little Rock, Ark., native said he recalls being announced as the starter on the videoboard just moments prior to the season opener against Central Arkansas.
“I think it was a surprise to just about everyone,” Campbell said. “For the first game, I was on the jumbotron as the starting punter. We didn’t tell anyone. All of a sudden Jim goes out there.”
Campbell admitted he wasn’t completely sold on doing it from the start.
“It was kind of a hard decision to make,” he said. “I was like ‘I don’t know.’ I felt kind of risky doing it. I was a senior, and I would feel bad if I had to miss games since I had been starting for three years.”
So there were talks, and things went well. With some conditions.
“(Freeze) was straight forward and up front with me and my family,” Campbell said. “He was like ‘We’ve never seen Jim punt in a game before. So you’re going to have to be there in case he struggles.’ We agreed on two games, but I dressed out for the Texas game just in case.”
Campbell and Freeze basically decided that if it got past that point, the redshirt would remain. So much of this rested on how Broadway did. And he managed to do well enough to let the decision stand.
“(Freeze) came to me after (the Texas game) and said ‘(Broadway’s) numbers are good enough. You’re done for the year.’ I was real excited to hear that.”
Campbell went through spring, summer, and even August camp not sure what would happen.
“(Redshirting) came up once during spring, but nothing ever came of it,” he said. “All summer I wondered if this was really going to happen. During two-a-days, I was still the starting punter, but Jim was getting reps.”
It wasn’t like there was a competition between the two in August as might have been the norm.
“I was actually pulling for him, to give me the extra year,” Campbell said.
It’s an ‘extra’ year that, even with a bowl game this weekend that he’ll be watching, he’s already looking forward to.
“The plan was for me to come back, have a better team, a more experienced and stronger team, and have me help control the field position even more next year,” Campbell said. “And put our team in better position to win more games.”
Stay tuned next year, but so far the plan has worked well.
The Best Decision
Ritter said there were some withdrawals by not being in an actual game. He hadn’t been on the sideline in years.
“It’s definitely been different, especially at first. I missed it,” he said. “I wanted to be out there. But after a couple of games, I really took this year to grow and get better.”
One aspect was he could just boom away at placekicking, both field goals and kickoffs, as he worked out. There was no need for recovery time since there would be no game action on the weekends.
“I didn’t have to worry about saving my leg,” Ritter said. “I knew I could bust it as hard as possible and train as hard as I could. That’s what I did this year.”
Ritter said, looking, back and how things have turned out for him and the team, it was certainly the right thing to do.
“To be honest, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” the Jackson native said. “I feel I’ve learned a lot and gotten stronger.”
Ritter basically was the backup placekicker behind Joshua Shene first and later Rose. He was mainly kicking off. Now, with the extra year, he will likely have the opportunity to do both.
“I’ve always wanted to kick field goals, and now I’ve got an opportunity to do that,” he said. “It was going to be weird (not kicking this season), but I knew it would be worth it.”
And it was worth it because he got stronger and more accurate. He’s still got a lot of time to prepare for next season, and it’s something he’s looking forward to doing.
“I know I’ve got the leg anywhere out to 60 (yards), I’d say,” he said of his current range. “I can hit them further than that. But right now I’m comfortable to 55 (yards) and feel good further than that.”
Both Campbell and Ritter will likely have a shot at the next level, the National Football League. Both are capable of that. Ritter hopes they get there.
“It’s definitely something I think about,” he said. “To get to the NFL, you have to be able to do both (kickoff and placekick). I see this as an opportunity to be able to show I can do both. But right now my main focus is next year and helping out this team. I’ve got the whole offseason to get ready for next year. It’s been a huge blessing to be able to do that.”