Chandler puts best foot forward

Florida journey to respect came through uprights

Special teams

Orange Bowl

MARYLAND vs. FLORIDA

January 01, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Jeff Chandler received plenty of respect from the NCAA last season, but little when he first arrived at the University of Florida.

The exclamation point on the nation's highest-scoring offense, Chandler is a senior kicker whose 368 career points are the second most in Southeastern Conference history.

As a true freshman in 1997, he came on for one play, kicking an extra point in an 82-6 rout of Central Michigan.

In November 2000, the NCAA granted his request to discount that appearance and give him another year of eligibility.

It was a tad more encouraging than the welcome Chandler got when he arrived in Gainesville. Giving scholarships to high school kickers isn't customary at some college programs, and Chandler was simply invited to try out at Florida.

"I started at the very bottom," said Chandler, who received a telecommunications degree last month. "Not only was I a walk-on, I was a walk-on kicker. You don't get any lower than that.

"We don't play a normal position like everyone else does, and you can understand how people look down on us. You appreciate it when you finally make the team."

Chandler was given a scholarship before the 1999 season, and he earned second-team All-American honors that year. Not bad for a former soccer goalie whose parents would just as soon have seen their son go to Georgia.

His father hurdled for the Bulldogs in track and field. His mother also attended Georgia, and when Chandler was a senior at Mandarin High in Jacksonville, Fla., he was taught the nuances of kicking by former Bulldogs star Allan Leavitt.

When he decided to attend Florida, his parents put away their red and got an orange and blue wardrobe.

Chandler didn't kick for his high school football team until he was a senior, but he later became a full-fledged member of the kicking fraternity.

He takes in as many televised college and NFL games as possible, and was watching ESPN when Nick Novak's 46-yard field goal sent Maryland into overtime at Georgia Tech, a clutch kick he called "amazing."

Splitting the uprights is commonplace for Chandler, a main ingredient in Florida's ability to produce points on 53 of its 59 forays into the red zone.

Over his career, he has made 83.8 percent of his field goal attempts, including a 54-yarder against Georgia in 2000. Since missing his first try at Louisiana State Oct. 6, he has connected on 16 straight.

"When you go out there and tell yourself, `I can't miss,' that's a wonderful feeling," Chandler said. "I feel 100 percent sure about our field-goal opportunities. ...

"I don't know how many teams have been inside the 20-yard line 59 times. It's just been fun playing with this offense and putting up a lot of points."

Something special

A statistical comparison of the Florida special teams vs. the Maryland special teams with national ranking in parenthesis:

Florida

Maryland

Net punting 40.4 (4)

36.9 (34)

Punt returns 7.2 (93)

10.3 (43)

Kickoff returns 19.1 (81)

19.5 (73)

Notes: National ranking is out of 115 Division I schools.

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