TUSCALOOSA — Nick Fleming calls them “monsters.”
All American Kicking — a Florida-based training camp Fleming started in 2007 at Urban Meyer’s behest — is still relatively unknown. In a niche industry catering to the most exclusive of football positions, Fleming is quick to assign his work into a proper perspective.
Fleming walked on at Florida in 2002. Meyer awarded him a scholarship before the 2005 season opener, the final season of Fleming’s career and Meyer’s first as the Gators coach.
Now, he strives to “work and develop” the students he trains. Fleming’s staff does not “churn out 100 guys and see them once and then leave,” he said.
“We’re not one of the big guys that you’ve probably interviewed in the past,” Fleming told a reporter Monday afternoon. “We’re a smaller operation.
“We maybe produce six or seven ‘monsters’ each year.”
One is coming to Alabama.
Fleming met Austin Jones — Temple graduate transfer who committed to the Crimson Tide last month — as a sixth grader, one of the youngest boys he can remember attending an All American Kicking camp.
Each training session normally ends with a conditioning regimen. Fleming sometimes reserved them for the high school kickers who were preparing for college.
“Doing 18 100-yard dashes,” Fleming said. “Even as a sixth grader, Austin was one of the kids that just would never give up — even doing 18 100-yard dashes — he’d still be leading the pack and finishing the drills even more than the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that were going to college.”
For Fleming, Jones’ name falls in the same breath as former Central Florida kicker Shawn Moffitt — the former Lou Groza Award semifinalist who became the program’s all-time leading scorer — and famed Florida punter Johnny Townsend.
Both trained under Fleming, two of the 70 kickers who moved onto college, and both can call themselves “monsters.”
As for Jones?
“He’s among the monsters,” Fleming said with a laugh.
An economics major at Temple whom Fleming called “reserved” and someone who remains “in his own bubble,” Jones enters perhaps the most panned place-kicking situation in the country.
It’s become the social media topic du jour. Amid Alabama’s unprecedented rampage of college football under Nick Saban, a glaring inconsistency remains — the failure of its recent procession of place-kickers when the world is watching.
Cade Foster missed three field goals in a 9-6 loss against then-No. 1 LSU in 2011. Two seasons later, he missed two against Auburn, a game that ended when Adam Griffith — inserted to replace Foster — booted the “Kick Six.”
The man whom Jones will battle redshirt freshman Joseph Bulovas to replace — Andy Pappanastos — went 18-for-25 in his only season as a starter. He missed a potential game-winning field goal twice, though, including one as time expired in the College Football Playoff Championship Game against Georgia.
Fleming called Jones, Temple’s fourth all-time leading scorer who once made a school-record 19 consecutive field goals, more than equipped to handle the pressure kicking in Tuscaloosa creates.
“His mindset is just prepared for that,” Fleming said. “I’m sure he’s done it a few times up at Temple, where a big kick is a big kick.”
He did at least once. As a freshman, Jones nailed a game-tying 46-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining in a conference game against Memphis. Jake Elliott, a newly-minted Super Bowl champion, booted one of his own as time expired to win that game for the Tigers.
“You know you’re not going to be able to trick your mind into thinking it’s an easy extra point when it’s a game-winning field goal,” Fleming said, “but that’s kind of where Austin excels is being able to focus and do his job for five seconds.
“He’s one of those guys that if the pressure is on, he succeeds.”