Hahnfeldt returns to site of biggest kick

Oct. 15, 2008

Hahnfeldt's last-second field goal
defeated Georgia in 2006.

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Video Rewind: Hahnfeldt's Field Goal Against Georgia

A hero one week and a goat the next. That is the life of place kickers across the country.

Vanderbilt senior kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt knows the life all too well. Since starting as a true freshman in 2005, Hahnfeldt has dealt with many ups and downs in his career, but as the school's all-time leading scorer, the kicks he has made have certainly outshined the ones he has missed.

Over his career, he has connected on 37 field-goal attempts, but if he has one kick that stands out from the rest it is his 33-yard field goal that sank No. 16 Georgia, 24-22, in Athens in 2006. It is the type of kick that will forever link Hahnfeldt to one of Vanderbilt's greatest wins of the modern era. It is a kick Hahnfeldt remembers vividly.

"I beat Georgia on that kick, so it is probably the most memorable kick I've made," Hahnfeldt said. "I remember lining up the kick dead center. I knew that the snap was going to be good and Mackenzi (Adams) was going to get the hold down so it was just the matter of me getting it through the uprights. Our guys fought back hard to get me into that spot, so I was going to fight hard to get it through there."

To get Hahnfeldt into position to kick the game-winning field goal, quarterback Chris Nickson directed a 15-play, 65-yard drive that took the Commodores down to Georgia's 15-yard line. With just three seconds remaining in the game, Hahnfeldt put the Commodores on top for good.

A lot of young kickers and even veterans may have frozen up in that hostile environment, but not Hahnfeldt. He may have just been a sophomore at the time, but it was not his first pressurized kick on the road. A year earlier at Florida, the Commodores were penalized after a touchdown and Hahnfeldt booted a 35-yard extra point to send the game to overtime.

"Hitting that took away any other nerves I've ever had taking any other kicks," Hahnfeldt said. "I prepare myself each week to kick a game-winner. It's what kickers do, so you can't be nervous in that situation."

This Saturday, Hahnfeldt will return to Sanford Stadium for the first time since his game-winning kick when the Commodores face Georgia at 11:30 a.m.

The return to Sanford Stadium could be a perfect cure-all for a kicker who was struggling, but Hahnfeldt is a long ways from needing any good karma this season.

The Nashville native has been as close to automatic as he has been his entire career. He has made 7-of-9 field-goal attempts and all 18 extra points. His 77.8 percent field-goal percentage is higher than any of his previous seasons.

Hahnfeldt credits his success to a strong offseason that has led to a boost in confidence.

"I just put in a lot of hard work in this offseason and I wanted to do better for the team," Hahnfeldt said. "I had a good camp and everybody got behind me. I started off the season well and the guys have had confidence in me and I have confidence in myself, so having that kind of support helps you."

Buoying that confidence has been three years of experience of having success in a league that is renowned for having the most difficult road environments in the country.

"It helps a lot because you know you can do it," Hahnfeldt commented. "You've done it before, so why can't you do it again. I've learned from that experience just like I've learned from some of the kicks I've missed. You put it all together and you calm yourself down and if you do the fundamentals right, it is going to go through."

Hahnfeldt's success this season has capped a career that began with him earning Freshman All-SEC honors and was followed by two years that he admits were shakier than he would have liked. After making 70.6 percent of his kicks in 2005, his accuracy dipped to 47.1 percent in 2006, in part because of an offseason knee injury, before improving to 65.0 percent last year.

"I've learned a lot from the success I had my freshman year and the mishaps I had those other years," Hahnfeldt said. "You take what you can from it all, and put it all together."

Through Hahnfeldt's down times, Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson has consistently stuck up for his kicker.

"Everybody was wondering if he was good enough and now he is the leading scorer in the history of our program," Johnson said. "He has been a good kicker since he has been here at Vanderbilt."

Although he would like to have another crack at some of the kicks he has missed during his career, Hahnfeldt knows that the experience of having success early, followed by hardship, has made him grow into an even better kicker.

"I think I've grown a lot," Hahnfeldt said. "I was real focused my freshman year, but I kind of felt like I had blinders on because I didn't really understand what was going on. It seemed like I was running around a little bit with my head cutoff. I've settled in and realized my role on the team and what I mean to the team."

There may not be a better indication of how valuable Hahnfeldt has been to the Commodores than his climb to the top of Vanderbilt's all-time scoring list. Hahnfeldt became the school's all-time leading scorer against Rice on Sept. 13 and he now has 225 points in his career, 16 more than John Markham (1997-2000), who previously held the record.

"I have always felt he was a good kicker and he has overcome several injuries," Johnson said. "For Bryant to set the school's all-time scoring record is great for him."

Making the record extra special to Hahnfeldt is his connection to Markham. Like Hahnfeldt, Markham also graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy, which is located just 1.5 miles from Vanderbilt's campus.

"John (Markham) was years ahead of me, but we had the same kicking coach and he has worked with me in high school as well so we have a good relationship. Coming in, (the scoring record) was a goal of mine. Actually obtaining the record -- and doing it early -- means a lot to me, especially with how good of a kicker he was."

Even for the ups and downs Hahnfeldt has endured over his career, there is little doubt that if the game is on the line Saturday, there is no one the Commodores would rather have kicking in front of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium than the program's most prolific scorer. After all, he was a hero the last time the Commodores were in Athens.



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