August 22, 2012

Big gains

In the last 14 months, Sam McCartney has gained 37 pounds.

And the transformation has helped the walk-on go from an afterthought to a contender for Purdue's top place-kicker job.

"It's helped me tremendously," McCartney said of his gain. "People say 'Oh, you're kicking. You don't need to lift, or flexibility is more important.' But those things all come together. Flexibility, strength, those things all help when it comes to kicking."

McCartney, who attended nearby West Lafayette High School, which sits in the shadow of Ross-Ade Stadium, is battling true freshman Paul Griggs to be the Boilers' primary PK. But over the last week, Coach Danny Hope has given the slight nod to McCartney.

That wouldn't have seemed possible only a year ago, when he walked on to the football team as a skinny 6-foot-4, 178-pound freshman.

"If you look at a picture of Sam a year ago and look at a picture of now, he doesn't even look like the same guy," Coach Danny Hope said.

But McCartney had big goals. Immediately, he immersed himself into Purdue's the strength and conditioning program, and took advice from then senior kicker Carson Wiggs.

"I remember him telling me the first workout 'We're here to get big, we're here to get strong, we're not here to just show up,'" McCartney recalled. "I came into a situation where Cody Webster, Kevin Ballinger, Jesse Schmitt, Carson, they all bought into the weight program and I was just the next guy in there. I was just busting my butt just like they were."

McCartney, who credits sports performance director Duane Carlisle for his help, was quick to see results. And those strength gains have helped in his performance on the field, as well.

"I came in more with a mindset of not thinking about playing time, but absorbing all the information I could," McCartney said. "I wasn't tremendous in high school. Obviously, I had height and Coach (J.B.) Gibboney felt like I was the type of guy he could coach into being great. So I really came in with that mindset, just trying to take in as much as I could from Coach Hope and Coach Gibboney, Carson and Cody Webster and just buying into that, and knowing my time would come if I put everything into it."

That time could be sooner than later. During training camp, McCartney's shown the ability to be more consistent than Griggs, fifth-best prospect in the 2012 class. But the later has the bigger leg, leading Hope to suggest that perhaps both will have roles in 2012.

"We could end up in a situation where we feel more comfortable with one of our field goal kickers kicking the intermediate range field goals and another guy who might be better suited to be a long-ball hitter right now," he said. "We'll have a plan for that."

McCartney acknowledges that Griggs might have a bigger range - the latter hit a 57-yard field goal as a high senior season last season - but he's working to be the most consistent.

"I'm kind of embracing the attitude that I'm going to go out there and put the kick through the goal posts," McCartney said. "If that means that he has more range than I do, then so be it. But I'm just trying to go out there and put three points on the board."

When he came as a walk-on, McCartney felt he had to do extra to prove himself, but seeing fellow non-scholarship players like Crosby Wright and Landon Feichter be given opportunities has boosted his confidence.

Now, he'd like to join them on Saturdays. It'd be a dream come true for the local product.

"Well growing up here, you play your game on Friday night then walk over here at 10 in the morning and you tailgate and walk into the stadium," he said. "I've been doing that since I was in the sixth grade and fell in love with Purdue football, so it would mean the world to me to get an opportunity to help the team win."

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