The Alabama Crimson Tide currently have two place kickers on scholarship, and a third one is on the way with the 2012 signing class. With the NCAA cap of 85 scholarships players per team, having three kickers on scholarship is unheard of.
Many college kickers, even the most prolific and legendary ones, often start off as walk-on athletes who are not initially offered a scholarship.
The Tide's 2011 roster holds two kickers, junior Jeremy Shelley and sophomore Cade Foster, who was offered an outright scholarship by Nick Saban coming out of high school. Shelley was a walk-on in 2010 but is not longer listed as a non-scholarship athlete by UA Athletics, so I must assume that he received one.
Shelley has an acknowledged lack of leg strength, but he is incredibly accurate, making 12 out of 15 fields goals in 2011 and 39 out of 40 extra point attempts. He has yet to be used for kickoff duties. His one attempt of over 40 yards was blocked by LSU due to the kick being very low, an attempt at added distance.
The second kicker, Foster, has been used almost exclusively for kickoffs, but has attempted field goals as well. He has made two field goals on seven attempts, all of those long range. He also had three key long-range field goal misses in a loss against LSU.
Foster has a stronger leg than Shelley but has performed well below expectations, despite a great high school career and good 2010 campaign with the Tide. He is averaging just under 64 yards on kickoffs. That translates to most of his kicks landing around the 15-yard line. He has two touchbacks on the year, tied for 99th in the nation with the likes of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic.
Shelley was not recognized in recruiting circles in high school, but Foster was ranked as a 4-star recruit and third in the nation in his position by Scout.com. Neither, however, have proven they can be the primary place kicker for the vaunted Crimson Tide, as Saban was unable to designate one of them for full-time duties.
Saban has further shown his lack of faith by flip-flopping between the two during the losing effort against No. 1 LSU and by pledging to sign another scholarship kicker, Adam Griffith out of Calhoun, Ga.
Griffith (5'11", 175 lbs.) has the boyish face of a junior high student, but Scout.com has him as the top kicker in the nation, and Rivals.com has him as the No. 2 prospect.
Adam may be the most talented kicker that I have ever seen. He has big time leg and hits an absolutely huge ball. His field goals come off his foot like a rocket. His kickoffs are tops in the nation. Adam hit one wind-aided kickoff 90 plus yards with 4.40 second hang time. No one can match his talent.
Needless to say, Griffith is one heck of a recruit. That being said, where does that leave the Crimson Tide's other scholarship kickers?
Jeremy Shelley has proven he can hit the extra points and short field goals, but kickers that can do that are a dime-a-dozen.
Cade Foster has underwhelmingly short kickoffs with no air time, a severe lack of touchbacks and is not trusted with his accuracy to hit short field goals.
Shelley has no utility outside of kicking, but has made three tackles on special teams. Foster also has three tackles.
In high school, Foster was a powerful and dangerous middle linebacker, and at 6'1" and 220 lbs. he has the body to play that position (or safety) in college. At one point in 2010, he led the Tide in special teams tackles, something quite rare for a kicker.
There are several possibilities involving these two, all of which include newcomer Adam Griffith being the starting kicker for both kickoffs and field goals.
Foster may be moved to another position. He's quick, smart, and powerful. Linebacker, safety and fullback are all possibilities. He may or may not be on scholarship for this. He may also remain as a backup kicker.
Shelley may remain as a backup kicker, but his scholarship also remains in question. He is not capable of performing reliable kickoff duties, so the team's options with him are limited.
Whatever happens, one or both of these two will not remain on scholarship. It would not be prudent for Saban to keep both of them on scholarship—it would actually be quite detrimental due to scholarships being a valuable commodity.
There are many high school athletes Saban and his crew are trying to recruit while offering scholarships, and there are currently 25 non-scholarship athletes on the roster, many of them with great promise.
Safety Will Lowery, who was a second-string safety in 2010, started in place of injured Mark Barron in the Capital One Bowl and spent three years as a walk-on, working his hands to the bone on the scout team. He was finally offered a scholarship in 2011 after he proved his worth on multiple occasions.
The other 25 walk-on players would die for an opportunity at a scholarship.
To clarify the rules on athletic scholarships, they are renewable on a year-by-year basis. Performance and other circumstances can prevent a student from maintaining their scholarship.
As a result, after the 2011 season Saban has no obligation to renew the scholarships of any athlete on his roster.
Again, three kickers on scholarship is not a good thing for any college football team. With so many positions requiring depth in the likely case of injury or development of future players, there is simply no room for three kickers.
At the end of the 2011 season, one or both of these kickers may not get their scholarships renewed. They may transfer, they may stay as walk-on players, or one may even keep his scholarship.
Saban has a difficult decision to make. Will he allow one of both of the kickers to renew their scholarships, effectively keeping said scholarship from another deserving player? Will he force them to become non-scholarship athletes?
One thing is certain: There will not be three kickers on scholarship in 2011. Either Jeremy Shelley or Cade Foster will be forced to make serious decisions and/or adjustments regarding their future.