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THE ART AND THEORY BEHIND THE SEMINOLES' KICKOFFS

Kicker has the leg, yet FSU isn't satisfied with touchbacks.

By Brendan Sonnone

Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE - FSU's Roberto Aguayo could probably record a touchback every time he kicks off.

The 6-foot-1, 203-pound sophomore from Mascotte has one of the strongest legs in the country - i.e. his 52-yard field goal against Wake Forest could have easily gone through from at least 62 yards - and FSU has the ability to use that at pretty much any given time on kickoffs.

Coach Jimbo Fisher, however, doesn't have much of a desire to go for touchbacks. Aguayo is 29th nationally with 16 touchbacks, but the Seminoles rarely try to get their opponents to start from their own 25-yard line.

"In the beginning, everybody said, 'Let's just kick them out,' and I said, 'Well, you know something, we got some real, real fast guys - they're pretty big and they can cover, so what if we kick that thing real high and make 'em return it,'" Fisher said, grinning.

There is an art to Aguayo's kickoffs.

The idea is to kick the ball high and accurately, pinning the kickoff returner right along the goal line, exhibited by Aguayo's 62.4-yard kickoff average. Because of Aguayo's consistent hang time, the returner must quickly decide whether to take the ball out or not.

FSU has experimented with its kickoff return team this year. After a rough start against Oklahoma State - partially because of the coverage unit, partially because Aguayo was dealing with a lingering hip injury and had a season-low average of 58 yards per kickoff - Fisher and his staff added quicker players to the coverage team.

Oklahoma State, with dynamic returner and world-class sprinter Tyreek Hill, returned the ball to FSU's 40-yard line or better on three occasions.

But since then, Aguayo and the kickoff team have settled down.

In FSU's past four games, opponents' average starting field position is at the 20-yard line following kickoffs (20.8-yard line to be exact).

All eight of Aguayo's kickoffs went for touchbacks against the Citadel, as Aguayo was directed to go for a touchback on every kick for the first time in his career. It proved that if he wanted, Aguayo could automatically put the ball into the back of end zone.

"Sometimes we might go for hang time, but that game we were focusing on getting it into the end zone for touchbacks," Aguayo said. "That's what the coaches wanted, so that's what I had to do."

Depending on the situation - the score, who is returning the ball, the fatigue of players on the coverage team - FSU will have Aguayo do different things on his kickoffs. Sometimes he's asked to try and kick the ball out, other times he's asked to kick the ball high and short in order to create a dilemma for the returner.

At one point against the Citadel, a Bulldogs returner considered taking off as he brought down the ball about 1 yard into the end zone, stuttered as he contemplated the decision and then took a knee for a touchback.

This kind of hesitancy is what FSU wants.

Well, that's the second objective. The first is usually to pin the opponent back as far as possible by kicking the ball high and letting a stable of athletes sprint downfield and create havoc.

"From my perspective, as an offensive guy, when you get pinned inside the 20 or especially that 15, how you gotta call things, you gotta be careful," Fisher said. "You can't drop back. You get a holding call then and all of a sudden you're inside the 5, now you're punting."

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