Kicker has been one of the most maddening positions for Wisconsin — and its fans — for the past few seasons. The difference between a successful season and one deemed a failure often comes down to one or two games, and the kicking game can be a big factor in either outcome, obviously.
Last season, Wisconsin made 14 of 21 field-goal attempts, which ranked 10th out of 12 Big Ten teams in field-goal accuracy rate (66.7 percent). Kyle French struggled early in the season, which paved the way for Russell to take over as the team’s starter.
Russell came on strong toward the end of last season and proved to be a capable college kicker, making nine of his final 11 tries. Though his career has been up and down to date, he enters 2014 as the presumed starter.
"I have to have the confidence that I’m going to be the guy," Russell said in the spring. "If I don’t, then I shouldn’t be out there. I’m just going to keep working on my field-goal technique throughout the summer and just be ready for fall camp."
Expectations for 2014
Plain and simple, Russell has to be more consistent if Wisconsin wants to achieve its goals. He began his career with four consecutive misses over two seasons, and many fans were beginning to wonder whether the all-state high school kicker had the moxie to find similar success in college.
But Russell made seven consecutive field goal tries over three games last season against BYU, Indiana and Minnesota. He also drilled perhaps the biggest kick of his young college career when he made a career-long 48-yarder against Penn State to keep the Badgers in the game late in the fourth quarter.
Just when it seemed as though Russell had everything figured out, however, he put together a sloppy spring game in April. He made 2 of 4 field-goal attempts, hitting from 41 and 30 yards but missing from 36 and 44 yards. Some of his struggles had to do with the team introducing a new holder during the spring game, but the inconsistency continues to cause concern. Head coach Gary Andersen could even be heard muttering an expletive during the spring game broadcast on Big Ten Network.
Russell needs to inspire enough confidence in the coaches for them to feel comfortable inserting him into any scenario that involves a kick of 40 yards and in. Russell has the leg to hit from longer range, but his confidence will come from making the easier kicks. A year ago, he made all three of his field-goal tries from 20-29 yards, 5 of 7 tries from 30-39 yards and was 1-for-3 on kicks of 40 yards or more. Russell has been solid on extra points in his career, making 48 of 49 tries.
What would they do without him?
The only other kicker on the spring roster was Andrew Endicott, who did an admirable job last season filling in as the team’s kickoff man. It does not seem as though Endicott will be the man to challenge Russell most in the fall, however.
The biggest question is how quickly incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone will take to being a college kicker. The coaching staff was so committed to finding another kicker that Gaglianone will be on scholarship immediately. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, though he kicked in high school for Baylor School in Tennessee.
Gaglianone made 10 of his 14 field-goal attempts last season, with a long of 57 yards. According to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, one of his misses came from 63 yards, which would have been a state record but sailed wide left. He also sent 42 of 44 kickoff attempts through the end zone for touchbacks.
"I don’t know a whole lot," Russell said of Gaglianone. "I’ve seen a little bit of his film, I think from maybe Kohl’s kicking camp. I know he’s a good kicker. They’re not going to bring in some kid that’s not that great for this program. The kid is definitely going to help up the competition and I think make all three of the kickers better."