- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Ian Frye was like every other standout football player in high school, getting letters and calls from college coaches vying for his services.

What’s slightly different is what Frye does: Kickoffs.

The NCAA has changed the rules this year, allowing teams to kick off from the 35 instead of the 30-yard line, creating more touchbacks and fewer high-speed collisions in the field.

A freshman this year at the University of Virginia, Frye has a cannon of a leg, and will use it to blast kicks out of the end zone for the Cavaliers.

Elsewhere in the state, different strategies are emerging for the new rules. While the kickoffs are moved up, so are touchbacks, which now bring the ball to the 25-yard line.

Richmond coach Danny Rocco and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer both believe that a kick that stays in the air more than four seconds, and lands near the goal line, presents a strong opportunity for the kicking team.

“I think your coverage team is going to get down the field, and I think you’ve got a good shot at getting them inside the 20,” Beamer said. “And the 18, as opposed to the 25, is a pretty good distance, really. It’s almost a first down.”

U.Va. coach Mike London said he and his staff would monitor the opening weekend of college football games to see what trends develop.

The NFL moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line last year, but left touchbacks at the 20. Both organizations stated a desire to protect against concussions, which they say happen more frequently on kickoffs than any other play.

That also means potentially losing one of the game’s more exciting plays. Rocco thinks most college teams won’t try to get too fancy with the new rules.

“I honestly think you’re going to get a lot of people who are willing to kick the ball into the back of the end zone and spot the ball on the 25,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a relatively high percentage of the outcomes.”

That shift also will mean a change in the types of kickers colleges recruit. Frye, at U.Va., said the coaching staff “mainly wanted me for kickoffs.” The Cavaliers have junior Drew Jarrett for field goal duties, though Frye will compete for that role as well during training camp.

London has held a handful of special-teams practices during camp and has prepared a number of different kickoff styles.

“It’ll depend who the guy is back there catching the ball,” he said. “There’s a lot of strategy that’s going to be involved with kickoffs.”

Another important factor will be the kicker himself. The Hokies recorded more touchbacks than any other ACC team in 2011, but only 39 percent of their kicks ended that way.

A majority of conference schools couldn’t put the ball in the end zone on more than 15 percent of kicks, meaning that an extra five yards won’t create any certainty of a touchback.

Moving the ball to the 25 after touchbacks also may reverse the NCAA’s goal to produce fewer injuries.

If Beamer’s and Rocco’s strategy of kicking high and short proves to be the norm, more kickoffs may be returned, as well as more potential for concussions.

It’s just one more wrinkle for coaches to consider as the new season begins, one with implications on the field and the recruiting trail.

Mike Barber and John O’Connor contributed to this story

Read more about the Hokies, Spiders and Cavs at TimesDispatch.com

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