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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

Huston figures to be up to par

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State's Josh Huston sizes up a kick against Northwestern. After hitting 22 of 28 field goal attempts for the Buckeyes, he will play golf while the draft takes its course. Ohio State's Josh Huston sizes up a kick against Northwestern. After hitting 22 of 28 field goal attempts for the Buckeyes, he will play golf while the draft takes its course.
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FINDLAY - If Josh Huston's name gets called in Sunday's portion of the NFL draft, the Findlay native and former Ohio State kicker hopes to just do what he's always done best - put the ball on a tee and hit it long and straight right down the middle.

But the athletic Huston and his turbo-powered leg won't be pounding an inflated hunk of cowhide deep into the end zone like he did so consistently for Ohio State this past season. Huston and his dad, Denny, will be golfing, and seeking refuge from the anxiety-laden process of waiting for a life-changing telephone call that might - or might not - come.

"Josh told me we weren't going to sit around and sweat it out, like a lot of people do on draft day," Denny Huston said. "By the time we finish the round, we should know, one way or the other. By going golfing on draft day, I think that says an awful lot about how Josh has handled this whole thing."

The elder Huston said a good walk around the golf course seems like the ideal way to end several hectic months of intense workouts, private auditions with certain teams, and his son taking part in formal NFL pre-draft programs.

"The way we look at it is, Josh has done everything he could do over the past few months, and now all of this is in the hands of other people - beyond his control. There have been players before him that have anguished over it and spent the whole day on edge. But that's not Josh. He understands there are a million variables in this process, and he only controls one of them."

Huston has worked out individually for the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers. The ever-growing cavalcade of experts who attempt to predict the direction the draft will take have Huston going anywhere from the third round to not at all, and thus signing with a team as a free agent.

"I don't have a clue, and I know you can get surprised either way," the 2000 Findlay High graduate said recently. "My goal all along has been just to get drafted, and more importantly, I'd like to go somewhere where they're excited about me being there and they really want me to play."

In just one season as the Buckeyes' starting kicker, Huston gave them plenty to be excited about. He was 22-of-28 on field goals in 2005 while helping the Buckeyes to a 10-2 record, a share of the Big Ten championship and a win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

Huston was 17-of-18 on field goal attempts inside 40 yards for the Buckeyes. The pro scouts are most enamored with his leg strength. Huston drilled 49 of his 70 kickoffs into or through the end zone for touchbacks, including a string of 16 in a row.

"That alone is a very valuable weapon," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "If you take the return out of the formula, and make the opposition start at their 20-yard line that often, that has to translate into a big field-position advantage."

The 6-foot-1, 209 pound Huston, an all-state player in both soccer and football for the Trojans, said several teams with established field goal kickers might consider him initially as a kickoff specialist.

"The way I see it - and I could be wrong - there's a lot of kickers that can make field goals," Huston said. "A lot of kickers are going to be right there, and what separates them is the guys I've seen perform under pressure, and who have the bigger leg that's going to get you better field position. So I think it's a big plus for teams to carry kickoff specialists."

The pros kick off from the 30, not the 35-yard line the colleges use, but Huston's dad said the NFL folks seem satisfied that distance won't be an issue.

"In his workouts with the various teams, Josh has had a hang time of around four seconds or more on his kickoffs, and he's hit everything consistently inside the 5, close to the goal line or past it," he said.

"That distance with that kind of hang time, they said it puts him with the kickers who are already in the league, and that his leg strength is a plus."

Huston has spent most of the spring in Columbus, working out with his Ohio State teammates and spending time with a kicking coach who has helped him make the mechanical changes in his form to adjust to the different equipment used by the NFL - different ball, different tee.

"His training is different from the other guys, since he's not trying to get faster or bulkier like most of them need to," Denny Huston said.

"Josh worked out at the Woody Hayes Center on a regular basis, and right now he is in midseason form. He's had great workouts with the various teams, and now we'll just wait to see which team needs a solid kicker. It's a process we don't control at this point."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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