- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

It was arguably the greatest kick in Navy football history — 46 yards in a steady rainstorm with the clock running out against rival Air Force.

Joey Bullen — then a sophomore in his first year with the team — sprinted onto the field with the field goal unit, quickly set up and drilled the ball through the uprights with 0.4 seconds left to beat the Falcons and touch off a delirious celebration at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

That was in October 2005. That season, Bullen made nine of 12 field goals and a school-record 52 extra points.

“I was starting to prepare myself for senior year, because I figured that was the only time I was going to get out there,” said junior kicker Matt Harmon, then a freshman backup. “That was running through my head at the time.”

Bullen came to the academy as a soccer player and kicked for the sprint football team as a freshman. He became an unlikely key contributor as a sophomore, but Bullen’s fairy tale experience was derailed last season.

He tore the right abductor muscle in his groin in the days leading up to the team’s season opener against East Carolina. Bullen kicked four extra points against the Pirates, but the groin injury got worse.

After skipping the team’s game with Massachusetts, Bullen returned to make two field goals and four extra points against Stanford. But Harmon, who had filled in against the Minutemen, kicked the final extra point of the night.

Bullen re-injured his groin in the game, and it never really got better. He did return after missing two games to kick a pair of extra points against Air Force, but he missed the final six games.

“Last year was pretty disappointing. It was a roller coaster at the beginning and then it was just a steady downfall,” Bullen said. “I just couldn’t get healthy. I kept trying to push myself for the next game and as soon as I’d get out of practice, I’d fall apart. I just couldn’t kick.”

Each week, Bullen tried to kick during practice to earn his way back onto the field. Each week, coach Paul Johnson said Bullen was questionable, then doubtful, then Harmon would line up the first kick on Saturday.

“Hindsight is 20/20, but I wish I could have just sat out for two weeks after it initially happened, but I just didn’t want to do that,” Bullen said. “I just couldn’t get it completely healed. In fact, it got a whole lot worse.”

Harmon struggled a little bit at first, missing a 27-yard field goal against UMass, and his extra point was blocked in overtime against Tulsa. But as the season progressed he kicked better and earned Johnson’s confidence.

He finished the season 8-for-11 on field goals and 37 of 38 on extra points. When Bullen was finally healthy enough to kick near the end of the season, Harmon kept the job.

“I was excited to be out there, but at the same time I felt bad for Joey,” Harmon said.

Both players said they are close friends and hang out away from the field.

“I knew he was in pain and wanted to be out on the field, so it was kind of like my emotions were pulling at me,” Harmon said.

Bullen’s groin bothered him again in the spring, and this summer complications with his wisdom teeth cost him a month of offseason workout time. He is completely healthy now, but remains behind Harmon on the depth chart.

He is also in a three-person race to be the starting punter, and Johnson said there is no clear front-runner between Bullen, incumbent Greg Veteto and freshman Kyle Delahooke.

“I am happy to back these guys up. They definitely have earned the spots,” Bullen said. “I did really well that year [2005] I thought, but I just got hurt and that’s what happened. It [stinks], but I am going to keep playing and try to get a position, whether it is kicking or punting. If that was the peak, I would be pretty disappointed. I am trying to get back out there on the field.”

Added Harmon: “I feel like I am more consistent than I use to be, but Joey is still right there. I am just trying to fight him off every day. He’s still a great kicker. It is a friendly competition. I’d rather be battling him than anybody else.”



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