For a kicker who made 13 of his last 15 field goal attemps to end last season, Thomas Kinney isn’t satisfied.
“I want to challenge myself and push myself,” said Kinney, a Johnsburg graduate who is a fifth-year senior for Southern Illinois’ football team. “I’m working on accuracy and consistency.”
To become even more accurate, Kinney isn’t just focused on the goal posts at Carbondale’s Saluki Stadium. Sometimes, he prefers one post.
“We’ll work with smaller goal posts and even the light post,” Kinney said of his targets both in the stadium and on the practice field. “I’ll get a snap and a hold and see how many times I can hit [the light post] in one session.”
Kinney’s accuracy last season already has drawn attention. He made the Missouri Valley Football Conference second team and All-Newcomer team last season.
This month, he earned an even bigger reward, being named the Football Championship Subdivision’s first-team preseason All-America kicker by Athlon Sports in its annual college football preview magazine.
“It’s an honor,” Kinney said. “It definitely tells me I’m doing things right to get better.”
Only one Saluki kicker, Craig Coffin, ever has earned postseason all-America honors. Coffin was a second-team choice by The Associated Press in 2004 and a first-team selection by The Sports Network in 2006.
All kickers endure difficult moments. For Kinney, his toughest game last season was a driving force to improve.
After going 2 for 2 on field goals in a season-opening, 42-34 loss at Illinois, Kinney was 3 for 6 in SIU’s 40-37 double-overtime loss to Eastern Illinois, which went on to advance to the FCS playoff quarterfinals. That one game accounted for half of Kinney’s misses for the season.
“There’s really nothing you can do about it,” Kinney said of the team’s close losses, which included against EIU and a one-point loss to Youngstown State. “My focus was on getting better. I really got focused and got more relaxed. I want to make it as simple as I can.”
Kinney, who made 18 of 24 field goals last season, missed only three field goals over SIU’s final 10 games after EIU. The schedule included road wins against two top MVFC opponents, Northern Iowa (24-17) and South Dakota State (27-24).
His 18 field goals last fall tied for the second-most in the conference and ranked as the second-highest single-season total in SIU school history.
Kinney’s 52-yard field goal against Western Illinois in November was the second-longest kick in FCS last season. He also connected from 47 yards twice.
Kinney spent two seasons at NCAA Division II Winona State before transferringto SIU, the school from which his parents, Tracy and Tom, both graduated.
“I wanted to play on a bigger stage,” he said. “It felt right for me here.”
While spending his summer in Carbondale, Kinney said the experience of a year under his belt in FCS and his comfort with the coaching staff have helped him feel even more at home with the Salukis, who are ranked No. 20 in Athlon’s preseason Top 25 poll.
“I have more faith and more confidence,” Kinney said. “I want to make this season a good one.”
Two-time champ: Dakota Pruitt, a senior at D-III Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, won both the 1,500-meter run and the 3,000 steeplechase last month at the Midwest Conference outdoor track and field championships in Grinnell, Iowa.
Pruitt, a Johnsburg grad, broke the 1,500 school record with a time of 3 minutes, 56.61 seconds, earning Most Outstanding Male Peformer of the meet. Pruitt’s winning time bested the second-place finisher by nearly 6 seconds.
In the steeplechase, Pruit won the event by 8 seconds with a time of 9:34.22.
Winona ace: Harvard grad Chase Blazier had a team-high seven wins this season for D-II Winona State, along with a 3.00 ERA for the Warriors (27-22).
Blazier was named to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s Gold Glove Team after posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in his 10 starts, during which he logged 63 innings. Blazier posted 32 strikeouts and only six walks for the Warriors.
Opposing batters hit only .275 this season against Blazier, a junior who threw a pair of complete games.
MAC’s best: Northern Illinois junior Nelle Youel (Crystal Lake Central) was chosen to the women’s tennis All-Mid-American Conference second team this spring.
Youel played both No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles for the Huskies. She finished 15-10 in singles, including a 12-7 mark during the spring season. Playing with partner Arantza De La Torre in doubles, Youel was 15-11 during the 2013-14 campaign.
A health science/pre-physical therapy major, Youel also was chosen for the MAC’s All-Academic team. She has a perfect 4.0 GPA.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about localcollege athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com andfollow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.