- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — From a homemade goal in his grandfather’s back yard to the end zone of Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, kicker Brandon Pace split a lot of uprights before Saturday.

The fifth-year senior had two extra point attempts blocked in the 11th ranked Hokies’ conference win over visiting Duke, an event that had little impact other than to pique a team that prides itself on superior special teams play.

“I kind of get a little mad at first, but I understand,” Pace said. “I mean, it’s tough [for a blocker]. I have respect for those guys in there, especially [Nick] Marshman, who had four guys on him. I know it’s tough. I just take it, what comes with the territory.”

For Pace, that territory has been hard-earned. A former soccer player who came to football in middle school, he learned to kick on goal posts his older brother helped him fashion from trees dragged out of the woods behind his grandfather’s house. At Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, he set a school record for career kicking points and was even the team MVP. Despite being the Group AAA kicker of the year, Pace came to Tech — the only school to recruit him — as an invited walk-on.

He arrived in Blacksburg the same year Nic Schmitt, from perennial Group AA powerhouse Salem High School, moved the roughly half hour south to the same dorm room. Schmitt, now an All-American candidate as a punter, was expected to be a worthy successor to former Hokies kicker Shayne Graham, now of the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, after being pressed into place-kicking duties behind an injured Carter Worley as a freshman, Schmitt gravitated toward punting and the unheralded Pace took over the kicking.

“I kind of just went in more to the punting deal and he came in and did a great job,” Schmitt said. “And he’s a great kicker who just slowly built up his confidence, which is what he needed to do.”

The competition was anything but divisive for the two specialists, who spend most of the regular practice periods figuring out ways to keep themselves entertained without wearing out their valuable legs.

“Me and Schmitt have talked about it before,” Pace said. “How he was supposed to come here and kick and I was the kid that just kind of showed up and how it kind of all worked out — not only for us but for Virginia Tech.”

The kicking situation is emphasized more at Virginia Tech than just about any program in the country. Coach Frank Beamer handles the special teams, giving Pace, Schmitt, and kickoff specialist Jared Develli more individual attention in one practice than many kickers can expect in a college career. So when Pace had two PATs blocked against Duke, the third and fourth of his career, Beamer was personally in charge of this week’s adjustments. Talking about a need for an increased sense of urgency, he replaced Marshman, who was double teamed by the Blue Devils, with Ryan Shuman at right guard.

“Two guys on him and then two more right behind pushing,” Beamer said. “That’s a lot of poundage.”

While the coaches spend this week working out how to protect Pace from all those oncoming pounds, he says he can’t let himself even think about doing anything differently.

“If it does get blocked, I have to shrug it off,” he said. “As a kicker you can’t think about things like that. You try to stay away from, ‘Oh, they blocked the last one so I better kick it lower on the ball so I can get it higher.’ You just do everything the same.”



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