By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – It’s the position battle at Ohio State that nobody thought about.
Well, maybe no one except Jack Willoughby.
Willoughby, a graduate transfer from Duke, handled kickoffs for the Blue Devils but never attempted a field goal in a game in his four years in Durham before getting to Ohio State.
When he transferred to Ohio State, the conventional wisdom was that he was going to be used the same way.
But during training camp, Willoughby emerged as a challenger to last year’s kicker, Sean Nuernberger, and he has kicked field goals and extra points, as well as kickoffs, in OSU’s first two games.
“Honestly, if I just wanted to be a kickoff guy, I would have stayed at Duke,” Willoughby said. “What I really wanted to do was to have the opportunity to try to kick field goals.”
Nuernberger hit 13 of 20 on field goals as a freshman but struggled with consistency.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer jokes that he doesn’t like to kick field goals. What he likes even less is to miss field goals and Nuernberger made only 8 of his last 13 kicks a year ago.
Kyle Clinton, who kicked off last season for OSU, graduated so there was a vacancy there.
Willoughby admits his ability to kick off is probably what caught Ohio State’s attention.
“I think Ohio State might have looked at me because of the role I could fill on kickoffs. But for me, it was about field goals, too,” he said.
Willoughby was an economics and statistics double major at Duke who turned down an offer to work for McKinsey and Company, an international management consulting firm in New York, to use his final year of eligibility and work toward a master’s degree at Ohio State.
“I decided during my senior season at Duke that I wanted to transfer. It was sort of a multi-step decision. First, did I want to play a fifth year of football or enter the working
world. That was probably the hardest decision,” Willoughby said. “And then after I made up my mind there, I decided I wanted to leave Duke.”
He sent out inquiries to schools he thought had a need for a kicker and Ohio State responded.
Willoughby is 1 for 2 on field goals this season. He hit a 20-yard chip shot in a 38-0 win over Hawaii last week and missed a 43-yard attempt at Virginia Tech. A bobbled snap prevented him from making another attempt from 46 yards.
Deciding to transfer wasn’t the first time Willoughby took a chance on himself.
He was a soccer player growing up in New Jersey and had never kicked a football until he got out of high school. He taught himself to kick a football by buying an instruction DVD and walked on at Duke.
“My grandpa played college football and I grew up a huge college football fan. I saw an opportunity to make the transition after high school. I always thought I could kick a football well because I could kick a soccer ball well, so why not?” he said.
Contact Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.