By Dan Froehlich Auburn Media Relations
Snap. Hold. Kick.
Snap. Hold. Kick.
Snap. Hold. Kick.
The saying goes that ‘practice makes perfect.’ For Auburn’s field goal and extra point unit of Ike Powell, Tyler Stovall and Daniel Carlson, with four years of practice together, everything between the three of them is nearly perfect.
Since coming together as a unit at the end of the 2014 season, the trio has combined for not hundreds but rather thousands of kicks, whether it be in practice or games.
Carlson, the one who actually kicks the ball, is a two-time Lou Groza Award finalist, who has converted 69 of 83 field goal attempts and all 141 of his extra point attempts. However, as he will tell you, he does not get those accolades and made kicks without Powell and Stovall and their continued commitment to make sure the unit as a whole is the best in college football.
IT ALL STARTS WITH IKE
Powell, a senior from nearby Tifton, Ga., has been a long snapper since seventh grade.
“One day in middle school we were out at practice and our head coach picked three guys, me and two offensive linemen, to try and snap,” Powell said. “I didn’t even know what a long snapper was but I just got in there, put my hands on the ball and snapped it back. Out of the three I was the best at it.”
Almost immediately, Powell’s dad, Dave, had an idea. Seeing an opportunity to help his son be noticed by college recruiters, Ike began snapping regularly.
“I also played left tackle and I had one Division I offer out of high school,” Powell said. “But I pretty much knew in college I was going to long snap.”
I HONESTLY THOUGHT THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I WAS GOING TO PUT ON FOOTBALL PADS”
For Stovall, the journey to Auburn’s football team was quite different.
As a senior at Hokes Bluff High School in northeast Alabama, continuing a career on the gridiron was far from Stovall’s mind. Sure, he would sign scholarship papers to become a student-athlete at Auburn — but it was for the baseball team, not football, and even then, it seemed unlikely he would ever get on an Auburn playing field.
“When I hung it up my senior year of high school after we got beat out in the playoffs, I honestly thought that was the last time I was going to put on football pads,” Stovall said. “I had some offers to play but I knew I was going to get drafted pretty high.”
Indeed he did.
During the second round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, the Atlanta Braves selected Stovall, an outfielder/right-handed pitcher, with the 64th overall pick.
College was going to have to wait and football was over.
IT MADE MY CHOICE A LOT EASIER WHEN THEY OFFERED ME A CHANCE TO PLAY”
Fast-forward to the 2012 season and Stovall is out of affiliated baseball, riding buses through the Frontier League for the Normal (Ill.) CornBelters when his phone rang. The caller ID showed an Alabama area code. On the other end was Paul Gonnella, the recently named Director of Player Personnel at Alabama.
“(Paul) called me about coming to play football and I honestly thought it was my friends playing a prank on me,” Stovall said.
Only it was not a prank. Gonnella was serious. And soon South Carolina was, too. And Auburn.
“Alabama was the first to call but I grew up a huge Auburn fan,” Stovall said. “It was still going to be a cool deal for me to play football. Then when Auburn called…I already considered Auburn my home because I had already signed here, my parents went here, my sister went here. It’s just a place that I love and it made my choice a lot easier when they offered me a chance to be a part of the team.”
WE DON’T HAVE A KICKER THIS YEAR”
Having just spent a year living in Sweden where his father was born, Carlson and his family relocated back to the United States and it was around that time when one of the most accurate kickers in Auburn football history would realize his potential.
A soccer player, Carlson came to football only because a friend at church asked him to, telling the soon-to-be high schooler that the team didn’t have a kicker for the upcoming season and his soccer skills could translate well.
So there it was, following church, when Carlson had an unofficial tryout.
“I saw I could make some and I was naturally decent at it,” Carlson said. “I had a couple of buddies on the football team so I thought I’d give it a try.”
On the team, his commitment to his new sport was minimal at first.
“I’d show up for games and that’s about it because I was playing soccer pretty seriously,” Carlson said. “It wasn’t until junior year that I really made a transition. I was planning to go to college to play soccer, something I had been doing my whole life, but kicking was something I was enjoying and was good at. I thought I would take my chances and see what I can do with it.
“The rest is kind of history after that,” he said.
YOU CAN TELL BY THE SOUND
By the middle of the 2014 season, Powell had gotten his shot as Auburn’s long snapper, joining forces with Stovall and Carlson. He did not let it get away, snapping perfect spirals back to Stovall over and over.
Now the act is second nature to all three.
Having spent those countless hours snapping, holding and kicking together, only one of the three ever even looks at the kick as the play is unfolding. Powell snaps the ball back and keeps his head down.
“I usually don’t watch the ball through the uprights,” Powell said. “I can look at where his foot hits the ball — high, low or whatever spot on his foot — the sound of it if it’s going left, right or up the middle.”
Stovall places the ball down and listens for the sound.
DANIEL IS A LITTLE MORE HESITANT BUT I’LL BE JUMPING UP AND DOWN YELLING, ‘WE MADE IT!'”
“From being down there all the time, I can tell before I even look up the way Daniel hits the ball and the way it sounds,” Stovall said. “Daniel is a little more hesitant but I’ll be jumping up and down yelling, ‘We made it!’ before it’s even there because I can tell from the hit and the noise.”
Carlson watches the ball in flight.
“We’ve kicked so many kicks together, we’ve seen the bad ones, we’ve seen the good ones,” Carlson said. “We know each other so well
at this point that if I mis-hit a ball, Tyler is the first one to say something that he knows would encourage me in that situation. Sometimes it may be hard to gauge but he knows me so well and knows the exact right words to say.”
Carlson in, an attempt of 37…snap, place, Auburn’s gonna fake it! A behind the head flip to Carlson! Twenty! Fifteen! Ten! Five! Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Daniel Carlson! Ohhhh razzle-dazzle trickery from Gus Malzahn and it burns the Red Wolves and the Tigers lead 27-7.
The play had been a practice staple for what can only be counted in the hundreds or even thousands — or maybe millions if hyperbole is allowed.
Leading Arkansas State 21-7 with 7:59 left in the second quarter in the second game of the 2016 season, Gus Malzahn called for a fake field goal. Fourth-and-6 at the Arkansas State 20-yard line, the signal could not have been any clearer, but that did not make it any easier to believe for the three specialists.
“I was kind of stunned,” Powell said.
“My heart started pumping a little faster,” Stovall said.
“Stovall gave me the signal and I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?'” said Carlson.
Serious he was.
The snap came perfectly from Powell to Stovall, just as is expected. Then the crucial part of the play, a behind the head, no-look flip from Stovall to a running Carlson.
Once again, four years of trust allowed for Carlson to rely on his special teams partners to do what they always do, execute the play at the highest level, though he may not remember it clearly.
“It could have been disastrous but it turned into Daniel being untouched for a touchdown,” Stovall said. “I remember asking him afterwards how it was, how was the pitch, where was it and he said, ‘I don’t even remember. I blacked out.’ It was definitely a cool moment for us.”
A cool moment, on a hot fall night, that will live with the three teammates forever.
WE COULD FINISH IT OFF WITH ONE MORE YEAR”
Having spent three good years together, the opportunity for Carlson to move onto the NFL was a decision he had to confront head-on following the 2016 season. Should he stay or should he go? He had already earned his undergraduate degree. And what would a year back be like for him?
“Stovall going through the pros always had good advice. Yoda over here,” said a smiling Carlson of his older, retired baseball-playing friend. “It was definitely a positive to know that I could come back and know they’d still be here. We could finish it off with one more good year.”
Only it was not only Carlson who had to make that choice. Stovall, too, had already earned a bachelor’s degree, like Carlson graduating from the College of Business.
“One hundred percent, if Daniel wasn’t here I wouldn’t have been here,” Stovall said. “I told him Day One I would stick with him. I didn’t want him to have to worry about having a new holder.”
For Powell, there was no decision to be made, as he will not graduate with his degree in exercise science until this December. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t closely monitoring their decisions.
“I’m excited to have them back because if not I would have been stuck with a bunch of new kids,” said a laughing Powell. “I want Daniel to win the Lou Groza Award this year, and having Stovall’s experience back this year means a lot.”
With NFL aspirations just a few months away for both Carlson and Powell, and a possible turn back into the baseball world for Stovall, there is precious little time left for one of the most successful and popular special teams units in Auburn history.
Nevertheless, for the three, finishing this final year together is one more opportunity to build on the comradery they have built through those countless kicks.
This story can be found in this week’s Auburn Illustrated: Auburn vs. Georgia Southern, available Friday at J&M Bookstore and Tiger Rags in Auburn and on Saturday around Jordan-Hare Stadium beginning at 2:30 p.m.
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