Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich having his best season as a Rebel
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich has a solid strategy for nailing a high percentage of his field goals and points after touchdowns: Just treat every kick the same, because the last kick isn’t bigger than the next one.
That plan seems to be working for Wunderlich, who is having his best season as a Rebel. Last week he was rewarded for his efforts when he was named among 20 semifinalists for the 2016 Lou Groza Collegiate Placekicker Award–one of only two kickers from the Southeastern Conference.
Wunderlich explains that each time he positions himself to attempt a field goal or an extra point, he blocks out all noise in the stadium. Even the opponent’s defense bearing down on him for a block cannot throw the 6-foot, 193-pound kicker out of his comfort zone.
Although he rarely misses, Wunderlich doesn’t hang his head if a kick happens to sail left or right. Instead, he says he waits patiently for another opportunity to score points for the Rebels (3-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference). His resiliency was evident recently when the Rebels’ took on then-No. 15 Auburn two weeks ago in Oxford. Wunderlich’s first extra point attempt following Chad Kelly’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Evan Engram was blocked by Tigers’ defensive tackle Montravius Adams.
That would be the only time Wunderlich missed in the game. The former Memphis University School product was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals in the game, connecting on 20, 26, and a career-long of 49 yards. The junior was also 2 for 3 on extra point attempts.
There is no question the Tennessee native is having his best season in an Ole Miss uniform, connecting on 16 of 17 field goal attempts (94.1 percent), which ranks him first in the SEC and second in FBS. He has also hit 35 of 37 PATs (94.6%). Wunderlich has also been sharing punting duties with Will Gleeson, punting 13 times this season with an average of 45.0 yards per punt.
“A lot of it is mental. I’ve been doing it for so long. I feel it’s more mental now than it was before. I just kind of stay focused. It starts in practice every day kind of coming ready to work.”
Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich
In three seasons with the Rebels, Wunderlich has made many important kicks between the uprights but has never been in situation where one of his kicks was a game-winner. Much of that, however, is a result of Ole Miss’ success on offense.
Take this season for example. The Rebels are currently first in the SEC in passing yards per game (316.4). Though Chad Kelly is now out for the season with an ACL tear and lateral meniscus tear, the senior quarterback exited while leading the conference in total offense (3,090 yards), average total offense per game (343.3 ypg), total passing yards (2,758), total average passing yards per game (306.4 ypg), total completions, (205), total offensive touchdowns per game (24) and total passing touchdowns (19).
When Kelly went down to injury last weekend, the Rebels held a slim lead. Wunderlich remained steady, hitting field goals of 29 and 38 yards after Kelly left the game to help Ole Miss preserve the win over Georgia Southern, 37-27. He finished with 3 field goals and four extra points for a total of 13 points in the victory.
With Kelly out for the year and a young quarterback under center, the Rebels may, indeed, find themselves in a situation where the final outcome of a game is determined by a Wunderlich kick.
Wunderlich leads the Rebels with 83 points scored thus far this season. His average of 9.2 points per game ranks him second in the conference. However, he is quick to credit the Rebels’ snapper and holder for his kicking success.
“Will Few (snapper) has done a great job the past few years, and Gleeson’s holding, he’s done a great job as well, We’ve got a good operation going.”
Wunderlich on his season-long 49-yard FG against Auburn
“I hit it pretty good,” he said. “I think it barely got there, though, so I was kind of nervous about that. I feel like I’m pretty solid within 50 yards.”
Wunderlich on NFL kickers missing FGs under pressure
“It’s kind of tough to watch, honestly, being a kicker,” Wunderlich said. “Seeing guys I know, miss game winners and stuff. But you can’t really think about it, you have to focus on what you’re doing and not let it affect you. You have to stay focused and ready to go.”
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)