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May 11, 2009

Kicking It Around

Things have been rather quiet football-wise on the USC campus since spring practice wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. Players are finishing up final exams this week and will have some time off before workouts continue in June.

During the downtime USCFootball.com will be examining some of the position battles that will intensify once incoming freshmen arrive, and we will kick things off, fittingly, with the kickers.

Place Kickers

The departure of David Buehler and his subsequent explosion of athletic ability witnessed at the NFL Combine leaves some huge shoes to fill at USC for kickoffs, field goals and PATs.

Neither Joe Houston or Jordan Congdon will be sporting a neck roll and practicing with the fullbacks or safeties like Buehler did, but both are adept at putting the ball through the uprights.

Houston prepped at Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach and spent a year at El Camino College before becoming a preferred walk-on at USC. He was an honorable mention JC All-American selection hitting on 21 of 24 field goals and was almost flawless on extra points.

Back in 2007 he was behind Buehler on the depth chart and redshirted. He showed consistency on his kicks back then and continued that trend this spring. At only 5-foot-8 and 170-pounds, Houston certainly isn't a power kicker, but he was able to nail a 43-yarder during the Trojan Huddle.

Congdon was a highly recruited (three-star, ranked No.1 by Rivals.com) kicker out of San Diego (Calif.) St. Augustine. He participated in the US Army All-American Bowl and signed with Nebraska in 2005.

During his freshman season in Lincoln, Congdon hit his first 19 field goals, setting a new Nebraska record. He also hit a field goal against the Trojans during his sophomore season before he decided to transfer to USC.

Back in 2005 the Trojans signed Troy Van Blarcom, deciding to go with his bigger leg, and passed on Congdon. Van Blarcom ended up an academic casualty, and Congdon eventually found his way back to USC, his first choice coming out of high school.

Like Houston, Congdon showed tremendous accuracy this spring and helped to create one of the most competitive position battles on the team. Also like Houston, the knock on Congdon has been his leg strength, even though he has hit several kicks from 40-yards plus in front of huge college crowds.

Both Houston and Congdon will have a renewed and intensified competition this fall with the arrival of Jake Harfman out of Walnut (CA) Mt. San Antonio C.C. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Harfman is more Buehler-like, known for his powerful leg.

In 2008 Harfman was a first team JC All-American kicker, hitting on 20 of 26 field goals including three kicks over 50-yards and a long of 56. He also forced opponents into a touchback on his kickoffs around one third of the time.

At the very least, look for Harfman to handle kickoffs and long field goals for USC this fall. But for PATs and shorter field goals, all three kickers have an excellent shot at winning the job. The edge could go to Congdon, especially with an early test in Columbus looming, because of his experience in hostile environments while playing for the Cornhuskers.

Punter

The Trojans have had mixed levels of success with Greg Woidneck at punter over the past couple of seasons. His backup, walk-on Billy O'Malley, was the lone punter left this spring until he was joined by new walk-on Boomer Roepke.

O'Malley came to USC out of St. Ignatius High School in Ohio, while Roepke, out of Reno, was a member of the USC swim team.

The starter this spring was the more experienced O'Malley, but both punters were inconsistent. O'Malley hit a nice 40-yard punt during the Trojan Huddle, but also shanked one that went about half that far. Roepke had a punt that was technically blocked, but it appeared to just be dropped by Roepke.

Like the kickers, the competition for the punters arriving this fall will be in the form Jake Harfman.

Last season at Mt. Sac, Harfman punted 45 times with a 40-yard average, a long of 66-yards and had no punts blocked. Of his 45 punts 17 were fair caught, 22 were inside the 20-yard line and only one was ruled a touchback.

Unless either O'Malley or Roepke significantly step up their game this summer, Harfman will emerge as the No.1 punter almost immediately after fall camp commences.

No matter who wins these position battles, expect to see a higher level of play on special teams in 2009 with new assistant coach Brian Schneider overseeing all of the specialists.

Ryan Abraham can be reached at ryan@uscfootball.com. Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more early position battle breakdowns and player profiles of the incoming freshmen.


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