Wieclaw anxious for 1st taste of Miami-FSU rivalry
Miami kicker Jake Wieclaw would not mind one bit if the Hurricanes went into Florida State's stadium on Saturday and beat the Seminoles with ease.
And if the game is closer, he's ready for that as well.
Florida State lost to Miami four times since 1991 on field goals - Wide Right I, II and III, along with a Wide Left in 2002. (''When they pick the all-time missed field goal coach, I'll probably get the award,'' former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden once said.) Miami missed two kicks in 2005, then sealed its loss by muffing a snap on what should have been a chip-shot field goal to force overtime.
So Wieclaw knows the history of placekicker perils in this fabled series. He'd embrace the chance to buck the trend.
''I'm sure it varies from kicker to kicker, but me personally - hopefully, it doesn't come down to that - but if it does, I'd like to say I'm ready,'' Wieclaw said. ''I work all week, really ever since the offseason we've all been working to get in that rhythm. We're toward the end of the season now, so I feel like our field-goal unit is in a pretty good rhythm. We're doing everything right, and that's what we need.''
Kicking was a huge question mark for Miami coming into the season.
Matt Bosher was one of the nation's best, but his graduation created a huge hole in the Hurricanes' special teams. And Wieclaw was less than consistent while serving as Bosher's understudy, then struggled at times during spring practice.
But once he nosed ahead in the competition for the job, Wieclaw's confidence kept soaring. He's 8 for 10 on field goal tries this season and 36-of-36 on extra points. And he's consistently swung kickoffs into the left corner of the field throughout Miami's first nine games, giving coverage teams an easier time. Of his 52 kickoffs, only one has gone out of bounds for a penalty.
''We have the ultimate confidence in him,'' Miami coach Al Golden said.
Wieclaw has even helped out Miami's punting game this season. When Golden was unhappy with Dalton Botts, the regular punter, he opened up the competition again midseason and raved about Wieclaw in that role as well, suggesting openly that Wieclaw - like Bosher did before him - could end up handling placekicks, kickoffs and punts for the Hurricanes.
Botts has been punting much better ever since. He never lost his job, and it's not a coincidence that the competition with Wieclaw helped him find his best groove again.
''Jake has all my confidence,'' Miami linebacker Sean Spence said. ''Game could be on the line and I have no doubt that he's going to make that kick. He did a great job training hard in the offseason, and it's showing on the field. He's been kicking big field goals for us and coming up big for us all year.''
Much of Wieclaw's time at Miami has been spent on the learning curve.
He comes from the Chicago suburb of New Lenox, Ill. and went to a massive high school where the student body, he said, was 99 percent white. He calls Miami a melting pot, with good reason - not only are players of many races in the locker room, but the South Florida culture is loaded with influences from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Wieclaw said he's enjoyed every second of his time with the Hurricanes, and Golden thinks that comfort has turned him into a better kicker.
''We always talk about, `What are you willing to do to be a champion? What are you willing to do to be a starter? What are you willing to give up?' And he gave up a lot,'' Golden said. ''He gave up a lot of bad habits. He made a lot of decisions to make sure he took care of his body ... develop a faster twitch in his leg. All the running and lifting that he did, all the extra work that he did, and he was mentally tough.''
All that will come in handy if he has to face the wrath of 82,000 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. on Saturday with the game's outcome hinging on his foot.
''You've got to enjoy it,'' Wieclaw said. ''It's one of those things where you put all that work and effort in and you see it pay off, it's one of those things where you can't help but enjoy it.''