Badgers kicker left to wonder 'what if?' after calling it quits
MADISON, Wis. -- Kyle French will never know whether things would have turned out differently if he'd only made that 38-yard field-goal attempt two Saturdays ago against Northwestern. He'll be left to wonder if one single kick that sailed wide left doomed his career as Wisconsin's starting kicker.
He will admit his demotion was partially due to a culmination of misfires, of course. French was 5-for-8 this season and didn't demonstrate the consistency to maintain confidence from Badgers coaches. Still, would he have been benched for good if that kick drifted through the uprights to give Wisconsin a 17-3 lead in the second quarter?
"I probably wouldn't," French said. "It's tough to say. Six-of-eight is not bad, but it's not great. I don't know what really would have happened. Obviously, I would have loved to stay and make a lot out of my career here."
Instead, French, a fourth-year junior, will end his career after this season. He will not go out for the team in 2014 despite serving as the team's primary kicker the past two years and having one year of eligibility remaining. French announced the decision last Thursday on his Facebook page and followed up Friday on Twitter by saying the decision was mutual.
But French did acknowledge Tuesday, speaking publicly for the first time since the change, that he was not thinking about calling it quits until two separate Monday meetings with head coach Gary Andersen and special teams coach Jeff Genyk.
"We came to an agreement when I just kind of heard the news that I was going to be down on the depth chart and that I would be done kicking field goals for the season," French said. "Just based off of that, I kind of knew where my standing was."
French arrived at Wisconsin in 2010 and took a redshirt season. He was set to serve as Phillip Welch's backup in 2011 but saw action when Welch suffered a quadriceps injury before the season. French made 3-of-5 field-goal tries and 26-of-27 extra-point attempts during the season.
In 2012, French began the season as the starting placekicker and extra-point/field-goal kicker. Over the course of the season, he would lose his starting status to backup Jack Russell, only to regain first-string duties. French's inconsistency showed when he made 10-of-16 field-goal attempts on the year.
"It was a very tough position, especially last year getting flipped back and forth with Jack," French said. "I think mentally it kind of screwed with me a little bit."
During the offseason, French openly discussed the improvement he had made by working with Genyk, in his first season with the team. French said he began to focus on the process of kicking rather than the result, which cleared his mind before kicks and gave him more confidence.
But that confidence quickly faded. He missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt in the season opener against UMass and a critical 32-yarder against Ohio State. His 38-yard miss against Northwestern would prove to be his last before being replaced by Russell.
"It's been something we've been evaluating obviously for a few weeks," Genyk said. "Just felt like from a consistency standpoint, as far as trajectory was concerned, ball flight, those types of things, that in the best interests of the team we make a change."
French, the only Badgers kicker currently on scholarship, will remain on the team through the rest of the season. He said he was still competing for the starting placekicker role, though freshman Andrew Endicott has taken over the past three games and handled himself well. French's role now, he said, was to be a great teammate and support Russell.
French, from Menomonee Falls, Wis., was candid in assessing a kicking career that didn't reach the levels he had hoped.
"Obviously when I got here and when I started to play, I had dreams of going to the NFL," he said. "But in reality, I realize that I do not have the talent or the stats to play in the NFL."
During his college career, French made 18-of-29 field-goal tries (62.1 percent) and 87-of-91 extra points (95.6 percent).
Andersen noted that, when he met with French, much of the conversation centered on life after football.
"Kids' lives change every single day," Andersen said Monday. "It doesn't always go the way we want it to just like our lives do. He's a great kid. I'm here to support him, and he knows that. I think his teammates are here to support him, also."
Though French has one year of eligibility remaining and could transfer to play immediately under the graduate transfer exception rule, he said his kicking career was over. He is a double major in economics and personal finance and expects to complete both degrees by the end of the spring.
"I kind of thought about that for a little," French said of transferring. "But I think overall that extra season, it would be best for me to work on getting internships and focus on my career. I know I'm really going to try and stay involved in football as much as I can. Having that extra year of eligibility, I think it would be best if I moved toward my career path."
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