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ADAM HIMMELSBACH: Luttrell hopes to get her kicks for Hokies
IF YOU THOUGHT Lauren Luttrell’s tryout with the Virginia Tech football team last August was a publicity stunt, you should have been at Spotsylvania High School’s football field over winter break.
You should have seen Luttrell on the chilly field with her kicking coach, sending footballs through the uprights, one after another.
She was training for her second chance with the Hokies—a second chance that is almost here.
“We were kicking four or five times that week, and you could count the number of kicks she missed on one hand,” said Luttrell’s kicking coach, Dave DeArmas. “She’s not a high school kicker anymore.”
I first met Luttrell when she was a senior at Spotsylvania High in 2010. The Knights needed a kicker, and Luttrell, a member of the school’s girls soccer team, needed a new challenge.
During our interview, she accidentally called a field goal a touchdown, and she said she felt like a human bobblehead when she wore a football helmet.
But she adjusted quickly. She converted 10 extra points and made a 31-yard field goal that year. Then she graduated and enrolled at Virginia Tech, and figured her fleeting football career would be something to tell her children about.
Last summer, it was just something to tell her co-workers at Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant about.
Luttrell’s supervisor, David Turner, was intrigued. He told her she should try out for Virginia Tech’s team when she arrived on campus as a freshman.
Luttrell looked at him like he’d left the pulled pork in the smoker for too long. But Turner persisted, so Luttrell emailed the Hokies’ football department.
“She called me the next day,” Turner said, “and told me she’d been invited to try out.”
Luttrell showed up at Lane Stadium during the first week of classes and saw head coach Frank Beamer standing on the field. Her anxiety level rose when she learned she could no longer use a kicking block, which elevates the ball to make it easier to send skyward.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “I thought my kicks would go a foot off the ground and that I’d be laughed at.”
There were a handful of kickers, a few punters and a few long snappers at the tryout. Luttrell was the only one with a ponytail.
“I definitely got some weird looks,” she said. “I probably looked like I was out of my element.”
But once she started kicking, she fit in just fine. She missed just once during the workout.
Beamer was impressed, but said he did not have a spot for Luttrell. He asked her to try again in the spring.
And that brings us back to the week on the cold and blustery football field at Spotsylvania High.
Luttrell worked extensively with DeArmas, who attended training camps with the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers after playing collegiately at Connecticut.
At their first session, Luttrell kicked footballs toward the side of the goalpost to improve her accuracy.
DeArmas taught her how the wind at the bottom of a two-tiered stadium differs from what’s blowing atop a flag pole.
He took pictures of her form and showed her what needed to be fixed.
“For a girl who’s all of 5–11, she has a very good follow-through and she hits the ball well,” DeArmas said. “When she makes contact, it’s not just good accuracy, but good rotation.”
Luttrell is quite comfortable kicking field goals within 42 yards. Of course, her training has mostly taken place wearing shorts and a
T–shirt rather than a helmet and pads.
And her kicks have come on a quiet field with her coach rather than at Lane Stadium with 65,000 people watching.
“Let’s face it, kickers aren’t the most popular people in the world to begin with,” DeArmas said. “And she’ll have double the pressure, because people will want to know if she deserves to be there.”
But Luttrell thinks she can handle the pressure. She handled it during her season in Spotsylvania, and she handled it during her first tryout with the Hokies.
And the opportunity this year seems as good as any.
In December, the Hokies’ starting kicker, redshirt sophomore Cody Journell, was suspended indefinitely after being arrested for breaking and entering. He was charged with a Class 2 felony because of the alleged use of a dangerous weapon.
Prior to the Hokies’ Orange Bowl game against Michigan earlier this month, senior kicker Tyler Weiss, a Courtland graduate, was sent home for missing curfew.
So clearly the kicking situation at Virginia Tech is unsettled, and there will unquestionably be multiple kickers on the roster.
Luttrell’s next tryout is scheduled for late February. DeArmas has encouraged her to train in bad weather whenever she has the chance, because Blacksburg in late February will never mistaken for Miami in late February.
“I think I’m a lot more comfortable now,” Luttrell said. “When I started, I was just kicking and hoping it would go in. Now, even if it goes in, I see something I did wrong that I need to fix.”
DeArmas has spoken to current and former NFL kickers who heard about Luttrell’s quest and were somewhat skeptical.
They didn’t see how a girl who made just one field goal in high school has a chance to play for one of the nation’s most high-profile programs.
“And I just tell them they have to see her kick, because her accuracy is as good as I’ve seen,” DeArmas said.
“I absolutely think she has a shot at making this team.”
Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442