August 18, 1998
TURLOCK - Performing on demand, under the gun and in the spotlight. That's what a kicker's life is all about.
Unlike an offensive lineman, whose missed block more often than not get lost in the shuffle of a 60 minute contest, a kicker's error is right there, out in the open for all to see.
The Cal coaching staff will be the first ones to admit that the 1997 season was a constant adventure for the Bears kicking game. Yes there were some successes, like Ignacio Brache's 45-yard boot at the end of the first half in the 100th Big Game, but in the end, the inconsistencies, highlighted by seven missed extra points and five field goals, forced the Bears brain trust to reexamine their options at that position for the 1998 campaign.
Enter freshmen Mark Jensen and Josh Feldman, a pair of recruited walk-ons that are currently pushing Cal's incumbents for the Bears starting place kicking duties.
But unlike Cal's band of other walk-ons, who get to take advantage of countless drills and plays during a given practice to impress a position coach, Jensen and Feldman have mere minutes as the time set aside for work on the Bears place kicking game is usually very limited.
Add to that the fact that any time the pair does get must be shared with senior Tim Wolleck (Brache continues to rehabilitate his right knee from pre-camp arthoscopic surgery), and it's easy to see how crucial every kick becomes. Make your three or four attempts and your may just rise to the top of the depth chart. Blow just one and you could end the day sitting on the bottom.
But amazingly, neither of Feldman nor Jensen is willing to admit to being affected by the pressures inherent to the process.
"I don't feel pressure from the competition other than the pressure I put on myself," said Jensen regarding the three-man battle. "Of course I expect to come in and perform well and ultimatly win the position. At least that's my goal. But I'll be satisfied with what ever happens as long as I feel I've kicked up to my potential."
Feldman, who prepped at San Ramon's Monte Vista High School, had a similar reaction saying: "We have a lot expected of us, but I don't think there is a lot of pressure. Right now I'm just trying to stay focused and not let missed kicks bother me."
What may be affecting the pair is all the standing around they have to do before getting a chance to perform.
"The thing I have struggled with is all the down time we have during practice," addmitted Jensen. Normally, I'm used to getting a lot of reps in when I kick but we haven't been able to do that here and I think that has been the most frustrating part."
According to coaches, Cal's kicking chores are far from being decided as the Bears enter the mid-point of Cal's 10-day stay in Turlock.
"Right now things are running neck and neck between the three kickers," said head coach Tom Holmoe. "All three of the guys have kicked well at times, but we are really pleased at how the competition has made everyone better. There's a lot of potential out her right now and I'm sure one of the three will emerge as a starter we can have confidence in."
That being said, both Jensen and Feldman believe they will be the one to step forward and claim the starting spot. But until a starter is named, all three will continue to bide their time in practice, waiting for the opportunity to show they have what it takes to shoulder the responsibilities of the Cal kicking game for 1998.