A special relationship

Countdown to Missouri: part 6 of 9

In a sport where kicking is a vital, yet often overlooked part of the game, Ball State kicker Mike Langford and punter Reggie Hodges have a special relationship.

"He's one of my best friends," Hodges, a junior, said about Langford, also a junior. "We're always together in practice and outside of football."

Langford said their relationship has improved this year since they are both starters.

"We hang out a bunch," Langford said. "We've definitely gotten closer since sophomore year (when they became starters)."

Special teams coach Scott Pethtel said Hodges and Langford's relationship is beneficial because they are constantly working on improving each other's game.

"Their skills are so specific that they (kickers and punters) are a special breed," Pethtel said. "(Langford and Hodges) focus on what they need to do better. They're always watching video together and helping each other."

Both Hodges and Langford agree that being close off the field has helped them on it.

"Having him around has helped me a lot," Hodges said. "We're always together in practice. I used to kick and he used to punt, so it works out well."

"It helps having him around because we both experience the same mental aspects of the game," Langford said. "We talk about how to improve, controlling nervousness and having good days."

Pethtel is pleased with the improvement Langford and Hodges have brought to one another. He is looking this year to improve every aspect of the special teams any way he can, especially punting.

"We want to emphasis punting and punt coverage the most because it predicts our opponent's field position," Pethtel said. "We want to gain every field position advantage we can. If we cover well and tackle well, that translates into turnovers."

Pethtel's goal this year for Langford is to hit all field goals under 35 yards and be perfect on extra point attempts, something Langford accomplished last season. Langford's own goal is a bit higher than that of his coach.

"My goal is not to miss at all, the entire season," Langford said. This is something he did last season, going 21-for-21 on extra points and 6-for-6 on field goals. Only one of those field goals, however, was outside of 35 yards.

Hodges said he doesn't like to talk about specific statistics. Because of that, his main goal is simply to maintain consistency throughout the season. He does have one statistical goal, however.

"I want to increase my average by one whole yard, from 41.3 (yards per punt) to 42.3," Hodges said, although he restated that consistency is of the utmost importance. "I can have a strong leg, but it means nothing if I can't hit everything."

While trying to boost his average in summer workouts, Hodges pulled his groin muscle punting. Although he said he is just now getting back to 100 percent, he called his injury a blessing that might have helped him attain his goal.

"Because of the injury, I couldn't run or lift weights, so I worked on flexibility all summer," Hodges said. "Flexibility is a main part of kicking the football, so it helped tremendously."

On the other side of the special teams unit, the return teams, Pethtel said securing the ball on returns and gaining maximum yardage is important. In order to do that, Pethtel has to find a replacement for the team's leader in kick return yardage and touchdowns last season, Corey Parchman, who graduated.

"You can't replace the kind of speed Parchman had," Pethtel said. "We have two very capable returners in Sean Schembra and Jesse Avant. Schembra catches well and has the ability to get up field and through tackles."

Avant, who returned only two kicks last season, called his new assignment a dream come true. He added that he is not necessarily trying to fill Parchman's shoes, but add a spark to the team.

"I just want to help the team like Corey did," Avant said. "Our goal this year is to return three kickoffs for touchdowns. Touchdowns are rare, but I feel like I can contribute at least two of them."

While Pethtel continues to work to make every part of the special teams as sound as possible, Langford said the kicking game should have a larger impact this year than last.

"We should be a big factor this year because coach (Bill Lynch) is looking to score as often as possible, and not just touchdowns, which means more field goals," Langford said.


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