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August 10, 2010When then-junior Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber injured his quadriceps before the second game of the 2009 season, Dennis Erickson, initially, wasn't too concerned.
"Last year when [Weber] got hurt, my thought was 'Well, we're OK; we'll get by,'" the coach said. "Well shoot, I was at Georgia, [saying] 'Where you at, Thomas?'"
Seemingly an insignificant moment when it occurred, Weber's injury proved to be devastating for a Sun Devil team that lost four games by a combined 13 points last season, including a 3-point loss on the road to the Bulldogs, where walk-on freshman backup kicker Bobby Wenzig was blocked on a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that would have put ASU ahead.
Weber, who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker during his freshman season in 2007, returned in ASU's fifth game of the season, but was never near full strength. And even as he approached that form late in the campaign, the mental block behind the injury shook the kicker's confidence.
"The other thing, he never did heal," Erickson said. "He tried to come out and kick, and he missed some kicks in some games that he would have never missed if he was healthy."
Weber took some time during the offseason, he said, to get his mind and body right. The rest of the summer, though, Weber, senior punter Trevor Hankins and long snappers Cameron Kastl (sophomore) and Thomas Ohmart (junior) worked on their timing -- snap, hold, kick -- Weber continuing to build the confidence that made him one of the nation's top kickers during his first two seasons in Tempe.
"After the season I gave myself some time to rest and was determined to get back to the way I can kick," Weber said.
The kicker's eagerness to prove himself to his team and the rest of the country was evident during the first three days of camp, when he stretched, loosened up and prepared to kick during game situation's at practice, only to watch the clock run out without his involvement. With a team frantically trying to bring players up to date with a new offense, Weber wasn't able to kick until the team's fourth session of camp Saturday, connecting on attempts from 37 and 42 yards and missing narrowly on another attempt from 42. Monday he hit 1-of-2 from 37 yards, his only attempt from 42 yards, and both tries from 47 yards
Weber laughed off his lack of action early in camp during Media Day Saturday, but he did stress the importance the rest of the fall will have in getting the repetitions that will help put him back into his comfort zone, a place, Weber said, that involves minimum thinking.
"It's nice to get the whole team and get lined up [for field goals]," Weber said. "Just visually it helps you get in that rhythm."
Weber's familiarity with his role has been aided by the fact that his holder (Hankins) and snapper (Ohmart) have been working with him for more than a full season, forming an on- and off-the-field bond that Weber said is already paying dividends.
"Trevor has gotten so good at holding now that we have that confidence in each other," Weber said. "You have to have that relationship where you trust each other. A lot of people forget how many parts go into it.
Still, the kicker fully expects to shoulder an important responsibility this season.
"When it comes down to it," Weber said, "it's really just whether I put it through or not."
As for Erickson, he won't be taking kickers for granted for the rest of his coaching days.
"I do know one thing," the coach said. "I'm going to be two deep at kicker from now on in my career. Real deep -- scholarship deep."