TIGER LINKS

Mizzou's Baggett has come a long way in short time

2012-10-31T00:30:00Z 2013-05-22T15:20:39Z Mizzou's Baggett has come a long way in short timeBY STU DURANDO stltoday.com

COLUMBIA, MO. Called upon to try kicking a football for the first time, Andrew Baggett showed up on a wet day at Lee’s Summit North intent on showing off his leg strength.

The result was only a smidgen less embarrassing than what Charlie Brown experienced landing on his backside when Lucy pulled the ball.

As Baggett made his approach, he slipped but still put all the power he could manage into the kick and proceeded to smack a line drive into the back of the snapper’s head.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ll kick it really hard so it goes really far and everyone will see how good it is,’ ” Baggett recalled, adding, “I kicked it really hard but it didn’t go very far.”

Three years later, Baggett had progressed enough to beat out incumbent Trey Barrow to become Mizzou’s kicker in the Tigers’ first year in the Southeastern Conference.

He kicked only one year in high school and redshirted in 2011 at Mizzou, but Baggett has shown signs that he is turning the corner on accuracy and consistency by making his last seven field goals.

Twice in three days, coach Gary Pinkel knocked on wood while discussing the improvement he has witnessed in practice and games. He joked that the media should “just leave him alone and let him kick” because he knows how delicate a kicker’s psyche can be.

“It’s very difficult to predict a player right out of high school, that he can come right in and be a kicker at this level in front of 75,000 people,” Pinkel said. “I say this looking for wood here. He has struggled but the last three or four weeks he’s been better in practice. … It’s nice to see a carryover on the field.”

After missing three of his first four field goals from 40 yards or longer, Baggett has been successful from 44 and 41 yards in the last two games. Relatively young as a kicker, he concedes he is a work in progress yet expects to make everything he attempts.

Snaps and holds have gone awry to foil some efforts, but he also is not yet a model of consistency. Remember, before this season he had made only six of 11 field goals, and those were on high school goal posts, which are five feet wider than college.

“I’m always trying to focus on if I can make it better,” he said. “Do I need to not kick as hard so it’s more accurate? I’m happy where I’m at (with distance). I do the same kick as far back as we go. I think I have a strong enough leg for whatever we need.”

Baggett was asked to display his kicking skills for high school coaches in the event he might be needed his junior year. Distance never was a problem.

He worked out with the team on a part-time basis that season and attended games but wasn’t put into action until he was a senior.

An eight-minute highlight video from high school remains on Youtube and is front loaded with booming kickoffs and punts. Field goals and extra points, on which he was perfect that season, are at the end.

It was that leg power that prompted Mizzou assistant Andy Hill to visit Baggett’s high school in January 2010. Baggett’s only other prospects were with Division II or III schools or at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, which offered a 60 percent scholarship for his first year and a full ride thereafter.

He visited SIUC but declined to commit until after he checked out Mizzou.

“I could be at a school where I knew I’d be the kicker and not have to worry about anything,” he said. “Or, I could work hard and try to be the kicker at the school I wanted to be at. I thought I’d regret at least not trying here.”

So, Baggett walked on at Mizzou, without any promise of scholarship money, knowing he would have to surpass more experienced kickers to be the starter. That happened in August when he engaged in competition with Barrow, who finished 2011 on a strong note.

Baggett earned the placekicking job but had early problems. He made three of his first seven field goals and was on shaky ground.

The Tigers pulled out a win despite three missed field goals against Arizona State. Since that time, Baggett has not missed his mark.

“I see it more that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “James (Franklin) is supposed to complete passes. Linebackers are supposed to make tackles. I’m supposed to make kicks.”

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