Blumenfeld's busy foot handles 2 jobs for Navy

Restricted in past, senior is footing full load, adding punting to his place-kicks

September 08, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Geoff Blumenfeld is finally getting all the kicks at the Naval Academy.

The kickoffs. The place-kicks. Even the punts. The entire repertoire is in his hands, er, feet.

After two injury-filled seasons, Blumenfeld is being asked to replace both placement man Eric Rolfs and punter John Skaggs, Navy's career leader with a 42.5-yard average on 130 kicks. He is going to be one busy player, one of only nine Division I-A kickers in the nation who handle every foot duty.

Despite missing sizable portions of 2002 and 2003, the Granite Bay, Calif., native has extensive experience from placement, making five of nine field-goal attempts and 25 of 27 extra-point tries. It is as the punter that the senior faces a proving ground.

The early reviews are mixed. In the opener Saturday, Blumenfeld missed an extra-point try and a 40-yard field-goal attempt, sent the opening kickoff out of bounds and was tackled for no gain on a fake punt. But his one legitimate punt traveled 46 yards and was not returned, and he converted three extra points.

Coach Paul Johnson reaffirmed his confidence in Blumenfeld. "Hey, guys have bad days," Johnson said. "He'll make that 40-yarder next time."

The coach blamed the fake-punt gaffe on would-be blockers turning "guys loose on the back side. Nobody was blocked over there."

Unlike Skaggs, who could wallop the ball with a conventional style, Blumenfeld will punt the ball on the run. The rugby style kick gives him the option of running on every attempt.

"I was real happy with the one ball I kicked, 46 yards, no return and out of bounds," Blumenfeld said. "Any coach would take that. The run was something we've been working on. I'm going to come out to the side and kick because I do that better. When I see an opening, I can take it."

Blumenfeld attributed his troubles on the placements to getting "too excited. I was real amped up. ... From 40 yards, I should be relatively perfect and before every kick, I have to take a deep breath."

Blumenfeld inherited the punting job almost by default. His backup, Ethan Gouge, is a sophomore who did not play on the varsity last year.

"He's been the man," Blumenfeld said of Skaggs, who is still at the academy and works with him on technique. "Punting is not very natural to me, and it's a big thing to have someone around to reinforce you. I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel or to break Navy records. I just want to help the team get good field position and win."

Blumenfeld was captain of his high school soccer team, but playing at the collegiate level "didn't work out. I got a lot of letters for football and not many for soccer."

His interest in aviation made Navy the clear-cut choice. Holder of a civilian pilot's license, he likes to fly on free weekends. "I pretty much do it recreationally," said the senior.

Prowess in the air took a different tack in the Eastern Michigan game last season when he passed for a two-point conversion to Amir Jenkins.

"I just kind of threw it toward Amir, who was smothered by a defensive back, and he made a phenomenal catch," Blumenfeld said.

Two years ago, a tear in the abductor muscle (groin) limited him to seven games. Last season, he began as the starting place-kicker before a hip injury. When he recovered, Rolfs was firmly implanted and Blumenfeld was restricted to kickoffs.

"I remember being extremely demoralized," he said of the hip problem. So, he devoted the offseason to stretching and flexibility exercises and has restrained himself from overdoing practice. Obviously, it's important to the team that he stay healthy.

Johnson says he worries less about Blumenfeld than other areas on the team.

"I think he'll be fine," said the coach. "He's the best we've got. We're not going to pick anybody up on waivers, so it's him. He's punted well in practice, and I have confidence in him."

Next for Navy

Matchup: Northeastern (1-0) vs. Navy (1-0)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

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