Thursday, August 21, 2008

Giles County kicker Cody Journell puts best foot forward

A lifelong Hokies fan, Giles kicker Cody Journell wasted little time deciding to accept the full scholarship Tech offered him.
By Robert Anderson

PEARISBURG — Cody Journell lined up for the most important kick of his life with the football placed squarely on the 45-yard line.

All was quiet in Lane Stadium as Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer stood nearby waiting anxiously.

Then Journell strode forward and mentally repeated his familiar mantra: plant, kick, follow through.

Good from 55 yards.

And the rising Giles High School senior had just messed up.

Journell was kicking in front of Beamer during a camp at Tech in June. He misunderstood the orders from the legendary Hokies coach and placed the ball down 20 yards farther from the goal post than Beamer wanted.

“I thought he said put it on the 45,” Journell said. “He actually said 'Put it down here on the 25.’ I put it down on the 45 and made it. Then I saw him write it down in his notebook.”

Chances are, what Beamer scribbled down was not, “Doesn’t follow instructions.”

Shortly after Journell’s performance in Blacksburg, the Hokies offered the Giles place-kicker a full scholarship. A lifelong Tech fan, Journell wasted little time deciding where he would kick off his college career.

'Let’s kick it’
Blacksburg High School fans already had witnessed Journell’s talent. His 54-yard field goal against the Bruins sent Giles’ season-opening game into overtime, where the Spartans prevailed 46-43 in a state record-tying six OTs.

Assistant Rusty Kelley convinced Giles head coach Steve Ragsdale to attempt the game-tying kick with roughly two minutes left in regulation. Jeff Williams, who replaced Ragsdale as Giles’ head coach after the 2007 season, recalled his boss’ reaction.

“Coach Kelley’s the one that said, 'Let’s kick it,’” Williams said. “Coach Ragsdale turned around like, 'Are you crazy?’ ”

Ragsdale had not gone loco in the final seconds of regulation either, when he sent Journell out to attempt a potential game-winner from 57 yards out.

The howitzer from Journell’s right foot cleared the crossbar but sailed just wide.

“To me though, the most impressive kick was when he made a 42-yarder to tie it up in the third overtime,” Williams said. “The official on the left upright came back after he kicked that one and said, 'Coach, that would have been good from 70.’ ”

In rare company
Tales of Journell’s prodigious distance do not come as news to Doug Blevins. The Abingdon-based kicking guru — who once served as a personal tutor to Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri — has worked with Journell since 2006.

According to Blevins, few high school kickers in the country can match the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Giles senior’s length.

“Very few,” Blevins said. “You can count them on both hands.

“He’s got the potential to go a long way. He really, really does. I’ve seen a lot of guys I’ve coached as early as I did him. I knew they’d be in the league and they have. He’s right along with [Houston Texans kicker] Kris Brown. He’s right there in that caliber.”

Journell is rated the No. 7 kicker in the 2008 class by national expert Chris Sailer. His 54-yard kick puts him No. 9 on the VHSL’s career list for longest field goals.

Blevins, who was the fulltime kicking coach for the Miami Dolphins under Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt, said Journell’s leg speed is the key.

“He’s got a very fast leg,” Blevins said. “A very strong leg. He’s quick. He’s well above average. Your leg speed comes from God. You can refine it, you can enhance it but that type of leg speed is God-given.”

More than a kicker
Journell will use his legs for much more than kicking this fall at Giles. He will be the starting tailback in the Spartans’ single-wing offense, which means he could be tackled upwards of 20 times per game.

The likelihood of injury and risk to his future will be greatly increased.

“It’s in the back of my mind, but I don’t think I could just stand on the sidelines my senior year and just kick,” Journell said.

Beamer and Tech assistant coach Billy Hite — who recruited Journell — are staying out of the discussion.

The Hokies did pretty well with Salem’s Nic Schmitt, a star defensive back in high school who was Tech’s punter for two years, posting a 43.2-yard average in 2005 for the second-best mark in school history.

Former UVa kicker Connor Hughes quarterbacked Lafayette to the 2001 VHSL Group AA Division 4 championship.

“They understand,” Williams said. “Cody’s a football player. He’s not a kicker. Nic Schmitt was one of the best high school safeties to play in our area.

That’s the way Cody is. He was one of our best defensive players last year.”

Journell works daily with snapper Corey Martin and holder Lucas Jackson. Williams and assistant Bryan Strader limit their coaching to protection and operation time. In games, the coaches just make sure Journell’s 12-year-old brother Carson runs Cody’s kicking shoe on the field in time.

“He’s such a good kicker now, we don’t really want to mess with him,” Williams said. “We just leave him alone and let him kick.”

A Blevins convert
Journell won’t soon forget the day his father, Jim, told him about a newspaper article he had read about a wheelchair-bound Southwest Virginia native who had overcome mild cerebral palsy to become a nationally renowned expert on kicking a football.

Soon afterward, the kid met Doug Blevins.

The results were immediate

“I could see improvement after the first day,” Journell said.

Mildly skeptical of advice coming from someone who never kicked a football himself, Journell quickly became a Blevins convert.

“Every time I tell somebody the story, they don’t understand that he can coach despite never kicking in his life,” Journell said. “He can just sit there one time and watch you kick and tell you what you need to change. He’ll build on that and go from there.

“My main thing was that I wouldn’t go straight to my plant spot. That would make my leg swing around so I would hook the ball.”

Blevins was in Blacksburg the day Journell drilled the 55-yard practice kick in front of Beamer. The kick came under college conditions, meaning narrower goal posts and no rubber block to support the ball.

“It certainly separates the men for the boys,” Blevins said. “You get a lot of guys in high school who are very proficient kickers. You take away that block and they struggle or don’t make it. You have to have a lot of leg speed to get the ball up in the air and have it fly straight off the ground.”

Made a winner
Adam Vinatieri was a nobody when he rolled into Abingdon in 1995 under the cover of darkness.

He didn’t show up just to wait tables at the Martha Washington Inn.

Vinatieri worked days with Blevins and in 2002 he made a 48-yard, game-winning field goal as New England upset St. Louis 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI. Two years later Vinatieri’s 41-yarder gave the Patriots a 32-29 victory over Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Every workout ended with a fantasy.

“He said that every day they would end practice on a 53-yarder from the right hash to win the Super Bowl,” Journell said.

The day is coming when Journell will soon live his own dream, when he will walk through the tunnel leading to Lane Stadium in a maroon and white Tech uniform.

“I can’t even imagine how it’s going to be,” Journell said. “I walked out the other day and there was nobody in the stands. I was still blown away.”

Video -- See video of Cody Journell and his kicking coach:

The Roanoke Times
201 W. Campbell Ave.
P.O. Box 2491
Roanoke, Va. 24010-2491
Giles High School. 1825 Wenonah Avenue. Pearisburg VA 24134


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