A highly touted recruit when he signed in 2010, James Langford quickly went from being the freshman understudy of two senior kicking specialists to the elder statesman at his position on the Cal Poly football team.
The sophomore placekicker, helping to show true freshman punter Paul Hundley the ropes of college football, did a lot of growing up in a short period of time. Now’s his chance to prove he can live up to lofty expectations.
“James has got a lot of talent,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “It’s whether we’re going to get rid of that word ‘potential.’ Right now, I’m pretty confident. But time will tell. Just like a quarterback, at a certain time, you’ve got to show it and do it in a consistent fashion, not one great kick or one great run or one great throw.”
Heading into today’s 9:40 a.m. scrimmage at Alex G. Spanos Stadium — the last formal full-contact preseason scrimmage — the strong-legged Langford has had a consistently productive training camp, leading a trio of kicking candidates comprised of himself, Hundley and receiver Ryan Taylor.
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In the spring, Langford’s status for the start of the season was somewhat in question after an offseason traffic arrest had Walsh pondering a suspension for the former five-star recruit.
Pulled over with a blood alcohol content of .09 in early March, Langford pled no contest to alcohol-related reckless driving and was sentenced to a fine and probation as well as a one-year license suspension and enrollment in a first-offender program.
He served his suspension during spring practice and will be eligible for the season opener at San Diego State on Sept. 3.
“It was an unfortunate, stupid decision,” Langford said. “Obviously, that’s not who I am, and I still came back strong, even more focused than ever. I learned from that mistake and just grew from it. It didn’t deter me in my performance at all.”
Said Walsh: “James has learned a lot in a year. He hasn’t been late to things. He hasn’t missed things. Last year, he didn’t get the fact that he was playing college football, and a lot of that’s the immaturity thing. So, I think he’s done some growing up, which is a good thing.”
After nailing a 57-yard field goal in a high school all-star game, Langford became one of the most intriguing recruits for a program that has had a beleaguered kicking game in recent years.
The Mustangs are only 30 for 55 on field goal attempts in the past four seasons and have had some high-profile missed PATs.
The hope was that Langford could step in and take the reins of the position for four years and eventually become an NFL prospect.
It was an up-and-down transition in his first year on the field last season.
He averaged an impressive 65.4 yards and had nine touchbacks handling all but four of the team’s kickoffs in 2010. Langford was perfect on 16 PATs, and showing some promise, he narrowly missed a 50-yard field goal against Montana.
But overall, he was only 1 for 5 on field goals. Many of them were long-range attempts, but with his strong leg, coaches expect him to cash in on those chances.
“A lot of it’s mental,” Langford said. “Going 1 for 5 last year doesn’t sound that good, but when you say the shortest field goal that I missed was 47, it sounds a little bit better.”
Former Atascadero High standout Jake West was 8 of 15 on field goals and 19 of 22 on PATs.
Though Langford came back without the experienced competitors vying for his spot, he still needed to improve.
Resting a case of chondromalacia — an irritation of the undersurface of the kneecap that commonly affects soccer players — through much of the offseason, he focused on weight training and the mental side of his game.
He wants to add at least another two yards to his kickoff averages and become a reliable source of points, though the injury limited him to only five practice sessions between May and July.
“I did a lot of film work, looking at film of myself in those five practices,” Langford said. “A lot of visualization. Just before I’d go to bed, I’d visualize kicking 15 perfect field goals. I think that helped. That made me come back quickly and perform well once I got here.”
Walsh gave Langford a B-plus grade through the first two weeks of training camp and was impressed with his 7-for-7 effort, which included a 52-yard field goal, in practice preceding last Saturday’s scrimmage at the Upper Sports Complex.
Both Langford and Walsh have also been impressed with Hundley’s leg.
“Paul Hundley, way better than we thought outside of the punting game,” Walsh said. “The punting thing, I think we knew he was good because we had him in camp in the summer. So we knew what we were getting from a punt standpoint, but I’m not too sure we understood how good of a field goal kicker and a kickoff guy he is.”
Hundley will be there to back up Langford should he falter, but his true specialty is his punting. Hundley averaged 33.8 yards per punt last season while also playing wide receiver for former Sacramento State special teams coach Richard Sanchez, now the head coach at St. Augustine High in San Diego.