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Moving on from Ukropina: Stanford’s kicking options going forward

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Although the best kicker in school history will graduate after this season, his potential replacements are very talented

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of your rooting interest, if you watched the game, you remember where you were when Conrad Ukropina made “The Kick.”

I was freezing on the sideline, desperately trying not to get trampled by a wave of crazed Cardinal fans.

Ukropina’s 45-yard field goal on the game’s final play knocked No. 6 Notre Dame out of College Football Playoff contention and capped a 10-2 regular season for Stanford, which sent the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl and fans rushing the field.

The fifth-year senior will be remembered by Stanford fans not just for big moments like these, but for his consistency.

He was the most on-target kicker in school history, connecting on 82.4 percent of his field goals, and smashed the single-season school record for field goals made (22) in 2016.

Heading into 2017, Stanford will have a tall task ahead of them in replacing the graduating Ukropina, but they’re certainly not short on options.

Punter Jake Bailey was the nation’s fourth-best kicker according to ESPN, but it seems unlikely that he would handle both kicking and punting duties simultaneously. That leaves now-freshman Jet Toner and walk-on sophomore Charlie Beall left to vie for the job. Freshman walk-on Collin Riccitelli, who head coach David Shaw said “really made strides” last offseason, may also have a distant shot. However, his odds of winning the job appear low, given he connected on just half of his field goal attempts in high school.

Both Toner and Beall were three-star recruits before coming to Stanford, and can connect from long range — Toner’s career long was 54 yards, while Beall hit one from 62 yards.

Although he excels as a placekicker, Toner’s skill set seems to be slanted more towards the punting game — he was a top-five punter in kicking expert Chris Sailer’s rankings.

Considering his skills as a punter and given Beall’s extra year of experience, it seems more likely that Beall will take the job, in accordance with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tom Fitzgerald’s report.

The Newport Coast, Calif. native hasn’t seen action in his two years on the farm, but Ukropina had to “hol[d] off competition” from Beall for the job in 2015 after Jordan Williamson’s graduation. Beall became friends with Williamson several years before his time at Stanford, perhaps learning a bit from Williamson’s three missed field goals in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.

"My dad and his parents somehow got in contact three or four years ago and I've gone up to visit him a bunch of times and our families have become really close and we've become really good friends," Beall said. “We've talked about the whole Fiesta Bowl fiasco a lot. He's been a guy who's gone through a lot of what there is to go through and it's just about keeping your head up and keep going and not focus on the bad but try and just move on to the next kick."

In what appears to be preparation for the future, he has focused on kicking ever since he got to the Farm, unlike Bailey.

"Jake is definitely a very strong punter, as well as kicker, but I know his favorite is punting,” Beall told the Cardinal Sports Report’s Andy Drukarev before the 2015 season. And, so, they've talked a little to us about him maybe focusing more on punting and me maybe focusing more on field goals and then kickoffs are just kind of up in the air."

Although Beall was a walk-on, he had a much better high school pedigree than Ukropina, who was not ranked by ESPN, suggesting that Stanford will be just fine with him.

Special teams coordinator Pete Alamar coached up Ukropina, a former walk-on, from a shaky college debut in 2013 to one of the best kickers in the country. The scary thing for other Pac-12 teams: the special teams whiz is now blessed with an embarrassment of riches at placekicker.

It’s clear that both Beall and Toner have the talent to excel immediately. As long as their mental kicking game is sound, regardless of who wins the job, Stanford could have another Ukropina-like talent in their midst next season.