MADISON, Wis. — In big games, special teams can make all the difference.
A botched snap, a missed field goal as time expires, or a muffed punt can be costly. Plays such as David Gilreath’s opening kickoff return touchdown against Ohio State in 2010 can be difference makers.
With back surgery derailing what was a promising junior season for Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone, senior place kicker Andrew Endicott is going to face pressure on Saturday night against #2 Ohio State. As any football fan knows, the game goes on regardless of injury. In comes Endicott, who, until the Michigan State game, had not attempted a single field goal in his career.
“I don’t want to say that I don’t feel like I haven’t earned the position, but there’s definitely the personal level of Rafael getting hurt and having surgery and all that, makes it more bittersweet stepping into this roll,” Endicott said.
Against Michigan State, Endicott lined up for an extra point. He missed it wide left. At the time, the score was close and Michigan State was a big game opening up Big Ten play for Wisconsin.
Endicott had no shortage of chances at redemption though and has plenty of opportunities awaiting on Wisconsin’s tough schedule.
“I think any kicker at any program plays a very important role especially with the Big Ten schedule,” Endicott said. “I think in low scoring games the importance of any kicker is pretty glaringly apparent.”
“I know if I’m ever put in a situation where I’m meant to make some big kicks that I’m ready to make those. Hopefully prove my importance to the team.”
The senior would get a chance to prove his importance. In the third quarter against Michigan State, with Wisconsin only leading by 14 in the third quarter, Endicott came on for a 41-yard field goal and drilled it.
Endicott will only be a small part of the Badgers’ special teams on Saturday. Jazz Peavy, who returns punts for Wisconsin, knows just how amplified special teams plays can be in big games.
“They’re going to notice so in big games like this, every yard counts,” Peavy said. “On a return, if you can get ten or fifteen yards that’s always a plus for sure. As long as we take advantage of situations like that.”
But kickers and returners are not the only ones who get the job of executing seemingly mundane plays.
Senior long snapper Connor Udelhoven and freshman holder Connor Allen are two guys crucial in making sure the ball flies through the uprights. They are also two guys that Endicott has the utmost trust in.
“I know if I close my eyes and walk, I’d run into the ball. They’re going to put it exactly where it needs to be every single time,” Endicott said.
Endicott sees Udelhoven as the best long snapper in the country and has seen Allen grow into a role that now graduated Drew Meyer had been phenomenal at.
Gaglianone is still a part of this unit despite his injury. According to Endicott, he can go to Gaglianone for advice anytime he needs to, but mostly just likes having him around.
“Raf is still hanging around us which is nice. He’s a pretty fun guy to be around. The unit, I couldn’t have chosen better guys to be teamed up with in that unit.”
Coming off a bye week, Endicott is feeling fresh.
“A lot of people probably don’t realize that legs get pretty tired pretty quickly. To be able to step away for a week and kind of get some fresh legs for practice and for the games is a huge help.”
With College Gameday in town, the game being played under the lights, and fans getting ready to Jump Around all day, the emotions will surely be high come kickoff.
For Endicott though, he’s just excited to show Wisconsin’s home crowd what he is capable of and that he’s ready for the big moments.
“I realized a little bit ago that it’s going to be the first time where I have a chance to kick any field goals in a game at Camp Randall, so I’m pretty excited,” Endicott said. “I’m pretty pumped up not only to play at home but to kick in front of a friendly fan base. It’s going to be a lot nicer than Michigan and Michigan State was.”
Photo courtesy of Tom Lynn, Getty Images.