Tiffin trying to forget ’06 woes
By Josh Cooper
TUSCALOOSA — Almost two weeks ago, Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin lined up for a field goal. Positive thoughts flowed through his mind: his 47-yard eventual game-winning field goal against Vanderbilt early last season.
Tiffin’s foot met the ball squarely and sailed through the uprights, 51 yards away. The successful kick came in an empty Bryant-Denny Stadium during a scrimmage — a long way from Fayetteville, Ark., and the two missed field goals and a missed extra point in a 24-23 loss last season to Arkansas.
It was Tiffin’s worst game of his young career. When starting kicker Jamie Christensen missed the first four games with a groin injury, Tiffin stepped into the gap as a true freshman.
That Arkansas game was his last of the season as the Crimson Tide’s regular place-kicker. Christensen was healthy enough the following week to resume his job.
A year later, Tiffin is the starter once again, and he is hoping to put the memories of Arkansas behind him.
“Well, you just have to forget about it. I learned a lot from that experience,” Tiffin said. “I think it is going to help me this year, but you have to take away the positive things and look at everything else, because if you dwell on it, it’s going to mess you up.”
Until the problems at Arkansas, Tiffin’s career was sailing along nicely. The son of former All-Southeastern Conference kicker Van Tiffin, Leigh had made seven field goals in the first three games.
When Alabama beat Vanderbilt 13-10 in the second game of the year, he broke a 10-10 tie with his fourth-quarter field goal.
Then Arkansas happened, and almost overnight, Leigh went from future legend to scapegoat. First, with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter, he missed a 30-yard go-ahead field goal.
In overtime, Tiffin missed a 37-yard field goal, which would have won the game outright.
He missed an extra point in overtime, too, giving the Razorbacks the winning margin.
“It was just a pretty rough experience,” Tiffin said. “But a lot of kickers have games like that at some point. If you lose your poise, that is what can happen to you — you quit focusing on what you are doing and you get so wrapped up with what is going on in the game. That is what happened to me.”
If Leigh Tiffin has any advantage, it’s that his father went through something similar in his Alabama career. Van explained that every kicker goes through a “nightmare” game.
Van said that as a junior in 1985, he had his “nightmare” game against LSU. He said that he missed a “40-something and a 33-yard field goal late in the game.” The final score was 14-14.
“I told him you have to get over it,” Van said. “We should never dwell on anything that is negative. I think he hasn’t. It has been brought up. It’s going to be brought up more. But it is something he can’t dwell on.”
Two games later, Van kicked a memorable 52-yard field goal on the last play of the game to beat Auburn 25-23.
This preseason, the statistics provided by Alabama’s media relations office indicate Leigh has nailed long field goals and just missed on some others. In fact, he just missed a 57-yarder in the second scrimmage.
Could the person who has 58 groups on facebook.com, a popular collegiate networking Web site, dedicated to his ouster be doing that well?
It was surprising to most people, except for two — Van Tiffin and head coach Nick Saban. According to Van, the biggest jump a kicker can make is between his freshman and sophomore year.
A kicker might not do as much conditioning work when he is an incoming freshman, and going through specific kicker training with a collegiate coaching staff for more than a year has added almost 20 pounds of muscle to Leigh’s wiry frame.
And with Christensen down with a quadriceps strain, Leigh is once again the starter. But this time it is more by choice than necessity.
“Leigh Tiffin was our No. 1 kicker before Jamie got hurt,” Saban said. “I’m not saying the decision had been made. He’s doing better.
“Nobody was disappointed in Jamie. He was doing a good job, but Leigh Tiffin had just done a really good job.”
When informed of this, Van was speechless for a second, then said, “Well, I knew he had been kicking in the scrimmages, but I wasn’t taking anything for granted.”
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