Conroy gets lessons from Spartans greats
When Dan Conroy lines up to attempt field goals for Michigan State, he isn't alone.
The words of two of the very best Spartans kickers, Morten Andersen and Brett Swenson, are always with him.
His 82-percent proficiency after two seasons is the best on the Michigan State record books, but Conroy wants to improve as a redshirt senior. He spent a week last month with State great Andersen, the most prolific kicker in NFL history.
"I trained with Morten in July in Atlanta," Conroy said. "It was a great experience. We worked on body position and foot placement.
"But he's a real mind master, that's what I learned most from him -- his way is to approach every kick the same and let your talent shine. He's real strong on visualization. I'd done that before, but he took it to a new level for me."
Andersen, 52, is sixth on Michigan State's career field-goal list, with 45 from 1978-81.
He holds the NFL's career marks with 2,544 points and 565 field goals, and set the league record for the most games played (382) with the Saints, Falcons, Vikings, Chiefs and Giants from 1982 to 2007. Andersen played 25 seasons, and only George Blanda's 26 surpass that total.
Conroy also has gained knowledge from the kicker who does hold the Spartans' career field-goal record. Swenson, who booted 71 from 2006 to 2009, preceded Conroy and his 377 points and 164 extra-points also rank atop the school's career lists.
"Swenson had a great run here," Conroy said. "He worked with me a lot. His big things were: ‘Stay in the moment. Rely on your training. Let your body react. Take the pressure off yourself.'"
Conroy credited Swenson with planting the seeds that led to his record-setting consistency. Conroy has made 32 of 39 field goal attempts (.821) and 93 of 94 extra point tries (.989). He ranks ninth in career field goals, but would move up to fifth by matching last year's 17 field goals.
There are some significant adjustments to be made this season in regard to timing on placekicks and the approach to kickoffs.
"I have a new snapper and holder for the third straight year," Conroy said. "The most beneficial part of camp has been getting in good work with my holder, Mike Sadler, and snapper, Taybor Pepper.
"We're getting our timing and rhythm in sync, and the trust is becoming more consistent."
Sadler, from Forest Hills Northern in Grand Rapids, Mich., also is the punter.
The NCAA now requires kickoffs from the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Any touchbacks will be brought out to the 25 instead of the 20.
"We're trying for more hang time and less distance this year," Conroy said. "The goal is for 4.0 or 4.1 seconds of hang time and getting it about two or three yards into the end zone.
"Then, we want to make the tackle inside the 25."
Conroy, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last year, is on the preseason list for the Lou Groza Award presented to the nation's top placekicker.
He had two overtime field goals in the Outback Bowl, including what proved to be the game-winner. But he considers the first kick made in that game his career highlight.
"The 35-yarder that forced the third overtime is the most important kick I've made," Conroy said. "The other one (28 yards) looks like it won the game, but after making it, I knew Georgia had a chance to win with a touchdown or tie it with a field goal."
The Bulldogs didn't score another point, and the Spartans had a 33-30 triple-OT victory.
Conroy chose to walk on in East Lansing rather than take a scholarship from Western Michigan. He eventually received a scholarship, before the second game of the 2010 season, and kicked the first of his three career-long 50-yarders in the next game against Florida Atlantic.
He participates in the Athletes in Action sports ministry, and said he's been encouraged to grow in his faith by Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell and linebacker Chris Norman.
"I'm into my faith more than ever," Conroy said, "and Norman and Maxwell are huge in that. I'm looking forward to leading some gatherings, and Wednesday nights we have team Bible gatherings. It changes you.
"This is a special team, and I'm looking forward to what's in store."
Conroy played on a state championship team at Wheaton (Ill.) Warrensville South, where he also was a center and linebacker until concentrating on kicking in his junior season.
"Sometimes I tell our linemen, ‘I can do your job,' " said Conroy, 5-foot-10, 186 pounds. "We joke about that."
He also earned the Eagle Scout rank with the Boy Scouts of America.
"I was in Troop 303 with one of my best buddies, Matt Christensen," Conroy said. "He did his pre-med at Cornell and now is in the University of Michigan med school, so we have a rivalry now."
The arch-rival Wolverines are the eighth game and one of five ranked opponents that No. 13 MSU will play. Boise State (No. 22) comes to East Lansing Aug. 31 to open the season.
"I'm ready to go," Conroy said. "Boise State has a strong team, and, yeah, it could come down to kick.
"I'm excited about the chance to make the most out of an opportunity to win the game."