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Bison kickers not sure if new NCAA rule will alter the way they play

North Dakota State kicker Cam Pedersen watches his extra point goal sail true against James Madison during the NCAA FCS championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—The NCAA struck again last week in its ongoing battle with the kickoff. The Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a new stipulation allowing receiving teams to fair catch the kickoff inside the 25-yard line, which will result in a touchback and the team getting the ball at the 25.

On Monday morning, the Bison kickers weren't sure what to think of the rule adjustment.

"I don't know what our strategy is going to be going into the year," said senior kicker Cam Pedersen. "I can't imagine it will change."

In the last few years, the NCAA has moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35 and moved the starting line for a touchback from the 20 to the 25-yard line. It's all in an attempt to further reduce the threat of injury on the play.

"It seems like they're trying to eliminate the kickoff and this is another step in that direction I guess," Pedersen said.

Pedersen only has one more season to worry about the new rule. The apparent heir to the Bison kicking role, freshman Jake Reinholz from Fargo Shanley, is giving Pedersen something he hasn't had for a while: competition for the job.

"The last couple of years it's just kind of been me and as much as you can push yourself, it's always great to have another kicker who is just champing at the bit to go," Pedersen said. "You have to come out every day and be ready to go because there is another guy in the locker room. He wants to play and he's ready to play and I have to come out with the same attitude."

Ben LeCompte was a punter/kicker when Pedersen was a true freshman in 2015, a spot where LeCompte opened the season at the University of Montana as the starting kicker and punter before Pedersen took over the field goal and extra point details.

Garret Wegner was a kicker in 2016, coming to NDSU after finishing his high school career third in Wisconsin prep history with 30 career field goals. He was the backup Bison punter last season and is the only punter in spring camp. Reinholz walked on last fall and redshirted last season.

So far, there is not much noticeable difference in the leg strength of Reinholz and Pedersen. It appears Reinholz's best chance to see the field next fall will be on kickoffs. It would seemingly be nearly impossible to ignore Pedersen's big-game experience, like the last-second field goal that beat Iowa in 2016 or the game-winner in overtime at Youngstown State last season.

"I'm just grateful to come in and have the opportunity to compete," Reinholz said. "Obviously Cam is a great kicker but I'm trying to do my best and see what happens."

Reinholz said he's seen a lot of improvement in the details of the trade, especially with his technique and form. He said it's helped that LeCompte is helping on a part-time volunteer basis.

"He doesn't have to do it but he comes in and helps whenever we need it," Pedersen said. "It's a great resource to have. He succeeded at every level and to have him come back and help is really special."

Consistency, of course, is the key to any kicker. Reinholz said he thinks he can give the kickoff job a run if that continues to improve. NDSU puts a premium on directional kicking ability, meaning trying to pin the kickoff return team on one corner of the field.

"In high school, I was mainly kicking it straight down the field, pretty much just trying to get it in the end zone," Reinholz said.

With the new NCAA rule, for example, a team can now fair catch the ball at the 5-yard line and its offense will automatically start at the 25. So it remains to be seen if accurate directional kickoffs will be just as effective.

"What we've done has been effective throughout the years and if they want to fair catch it, they can," Pedersen said. "But if they're going to try and return it, we're still going to have great coverage."

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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