COLUMBIA, Mo. — For Missouri kicker Tucker McCann, games against South Carolina have been a bit of a roller coaster. He didn’t start against the Gamecocks his freshman year, benched for an undisclosed off-field issue. In 2017, one of his kickoffs was returned 97 yards for a touchdown that shifted the momentum toward the Gamecocks.
As a junior last year, he and special teams coordinator Andy Hill had a miscommunication before an early kickoff, and McCann’s short kick handed South Carolina prime field position. Later, though, he hit a career-long field goal of 57 yards that went into the record book as the second-longest in school history and gave Missouri a late lead.
On Saturday, when the Tigers (2-1) and Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) resume the series at Memorial Stadium, he’ll take the field as both kicker and punter.
Although this is McCann’s first season as punter, it isn’t new to him. It’s not uncommon for high school placekickers to also handle punting duties, as McCann did at O’Fallon High School under former coach Brandon Joggerst. McCann was the top-rated kicker and the No. 5-rated punter in his class at Kohl’s Kicking Academy, where he started training in eighth grade. As a junior, he hit a 60-yard field goal that broke the Illinois state record, and at the same time led multiple camps in punting.
While many kickers at the high school level also play soccer, McCann chose to take the road less traveled and dedicated himself to football. He played youth soccer, which inadvertently led to picking up football. He and his father, Jeff McCann, who was a kicker in high school, drove out to a soccer field one evening to practice his kicks. Jeff threw a football into the car, “just for the heck of it,” and showed his son how football players kick. His father said McCann was a natural.
“He realized early on that he has a gift, and he just wanted to see how good he could get at that,” Jeff said. “He was a very, very good soccer player. … There’s more than a few really good soccer players around. He just thought he could stand out a lot more on the football field.”
Coincidentally, Jeff attended Southeast Missouri, where he played baseball. When McCann faced his father’s alma mater Saturday, his third game as a both MU’s kicker and punter, he had a standout performance. McCann had two 62-yard punts in the first half and a 52-yard field goal in the second half. He became the first FBS player this century to average 50 yards per punt while making three field goals of 40 yards or longer in the same game.
For the season, McCann ranks third in the SEC in punting average at 44.7 yards and has connected on five of six field-goal attempts. As MU’s kickoff specialist he’s second in the country with a touchback percentage of 95.5.
It was Jeff who helped persuade McCann to try for the punting job this season, though at first he was worried about the workload his son would have to take on.
“What people don’t realize is you’re not just standing on the sidelines waiting to go out and kick,” the father said, “and you’re not standing on the sidelines waiting to go on and punt.”
To illustrate his point, Jeff laid out a scenario.
“The ball’s on the 50-yard line, and now it’s third and 8,” he said. “So now Tucker has to go over and warm up punting. They get the first down, and they get a pretty sizable gain. Say they get 17 yards. Now the ball’s on the 33 and he has to start warming up to kick a field goal.”
Missouri coach Barry Odom said he, too, was initially concerned about the workload for McCann, though Hill figured McCann would adjust well, calling him “the most consistent guy we’ve got on the roster.”
That consistency made him the clear choice to replace former punter Corey Fatony. Fatony reached a sort of legend status that isn’t common for punters, with fans chanting his name when he jogged out on fourth downs. But McCann said he didn’t feel pressure to try to fill Fatony’s shoes.
“I’m my own person,” he said. “I’m my own punter, and I’m a kicker. So I just (try to) be the best I can be.”
While his coaches agree that McCann has fit nicely into his new role and hasn’t struggled to keep up with the workload, he’s had to make some adjustments. Hill said he keeps an eye on how much McCann kicks in practice, comparing it to a baseball player’s pitch count. McCann added that he has to do more in terms of recovery in practice. Still, Hill said the kicking part of McCann’s game hasn’t suffered since he became punter.
After the ups and downs of McCann’s appearances against South Carolina, Saturday’s game gives the senior an opportunity to end the series on a high note. If it comes down to a McCann kick to give the Tigers their first win over the Gamecocks under Odom, Jeff McCann knows his son will be ready.
“He looks forward to that stuff,” he said. “He loves the big moments.”