Tyler Davis’ Decision To Trade Soccer For Football Is Paying Dividends
Against Minnesota on Saturday, Tyler Davis stepped up to nail the biggest field goal of his football career — a 40-yard attempt at the end of regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Truthfully, saying the kick is the biggest in his career isn’t saying much. Not because the kick wasn’t difficult or because he wasn’t put in a tough spot — which he definitely was with the game on the line.
It isn’t saying much because his career to that point had been relatively brief — 364 days old to be exact. Tyler Davis played his first ever football game on October 3, 2015 against Army. Almost one year later, Davis is the go-to guy in a team filled with kickers and punters who all have experience putting the ball through the uprights.
His collegiate athletics experience started with soccer at Bradley University. He was recruited out of St. Charles, Illinois where he excelled at the high school level and with U.S. Soccer Development Academy club Sockers FC.
After a freshman season where Davis played in 12 games, registering a number of starts and scoring a game-winning goal in his debut, he decided he wanted to start anew elsewhere. That fresh start wasn’t going to be at another soccer program, however, with Bradley not releasing him from his scholarship to compete for another school.
Another opportunity rose for Davis to continue his athletic career. After training with former Oregon kicker Alex Eickert, Davis attended a number of scout camps. Penn State special teams coordinator Charles Huff took notice of Davis’ potential and offered Davis a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on, which the former soccer player took.
Davis enrolled at Penn State in January of 2015 and was thankful for the extra time he had to adjust.
“When I was practicing to come here, I wasn’t really taking into account a line running at you or a snap and a hold,” Davis said. “Off the sticks, it was easy to me. Getting here, being in a pressure situation, and all that, it took me at least a semester to get used to.”
The kicking position was a revolving door last season. After Joey Julius commanded the spot for about a month, Davis got his first shot against Army. Julius, while powerful, was inconsistent and it opened the door to Davis as both the field goal kicker and the kickoff specialist at different points in the season.
If there’s one thing to say about Davis’ kicking game, it is that it’s a model of consistency. During his first season, Davis didn’t miss — nailing eight field goals and 11 extra points.
For this season, James Franklin brought in scholarship kicker Alex Barbir. Even with a touted player with experience waiting in the wings, Davis held on to the position he won last season. He hasn’t only held on to it, he’s stabilized the once chaotic position.
This season, Davis has taken every single field goal and extra point — nailing each and every kick. He has never missed in a competitive game in his life.
This all culminated on Saturday, with Davis playing a prominent role in the comeback win and breaking a record on the way.
Tyler Davis breaks Sam Ficken's school record with his 16th straight field goal. Penn State and Minnesota are tied 13-13. pic.twitter.com/a9fJptU8Nm
— Onward State (@OnwardState) October 1, 2016
The performance landed a good deal of plaudits, including one from James Franklin who believes his kicker should have been the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
“You know, no disrespect to anybody else,” Franklin said. “He broke the school record [for consecutive made field goals]. Was three-for-three on field goals, two-for-two on extra points. Was on the Lou Groza Place Kickers Award Stars of the Week. But that’s just me. I don’t have a vote.”
The biggest question about Davis’ game is his range. He has only attempted three field goals from 40 yards or further with his longest coming in at 42 yards. For the most part, Davis isn’t concerned about his range and believes he can make the longer attempts.
“I definitely trust my leg,” Davis said. “That’s something I worked on a lot in the offseason and it’s definitely paid off. I definitely have a bigger leg this year and I feel good about the longer field goals now.”
While he doesn’t have a problem kicking the longer field goals, someone on the coaching staff might.
In situations where Davis would have had a field goal inside 50 yards, the Nittany Lions decided to punt from the 32-yard line and go for fourth-and-three from the 28-yard line. The fourth down risk paid off against Temple, but against Minnesota, a similar risk may have cost Penn State precious points in a tight game. The Nittany Lions were stopped on fourth-and-two from the 28 instead of taking approximately a 45-yard field goal.
It could be that the Nittany Lions are willing to play this game of risk-reward, but that’s not the case when the field goal opportunities get much closer. The Nittany Lions haven’t been willing to keep the offense on the field in a fourth down situation on the goal line in each of the last two games, opting to have Davis kick chip shots instead.
After the performance against Minnesota and the consistency he’s shown this season, it’s hard to believe anyone can keep betting against Davis. He’ll hope to stay perfect when the Nittany Lions welcome Maryland this weekend where he could be called on again.