MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Mike Molina made only 2-of-6 field goals from 39 yards and beyond last season. Yet among the ones he did convert, a 50-yarder in near-freezing conditions against Baylor showed why he might evolve into more of a long-distance option this year.
“He’s got a strong leg,” contends Mountaineers special-teams coordinator Mark Scott. “But last year there were some fundamental things we had to smooth out. When he got between 40 and 45 yards he was trying to overkick, trying to do too much.”
Several Big 12 kickers struggled on longer attempts during 2016 — Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor and Kansas State were a combined 2-of-13 from 40 and out — which factors heavily into play-calling decisions as offenses approach the red zone. While Molina isn’t angling to become the next Sebastian Janikowski, he feels he has maximized his 5-foot-8 frame into a reliable weapon.
“I think we’ll see more field goals from deeper distances this year,” Scott said. “The last thing at practice, he’ll go from 50 to 52 yards and kick it, and he’ll tell me, ‘Coach, I’m good from 50.’
“We’re getting more and more confident to push him back further and further to where we can take advantage of field position and put some points on the board.”
Around last season’s suspension, and ultimate departure, of former Groza Award finalist Josh Lambert, the Mountaineers’ kicking game turned erratic. Molina’s 15 field goals ranked as the third-most in the conference while his seven misses tied for a league-worst. Overall, his 68-percent accuracy ranked among the bottom half of Big 12 kickers.
However, Molina made all 51 of his PATs, the only perfect mark by a conference kicker with more than 26 attempts.
During preseason camp, the senior walk-on from Hurricane High essentially has remained unchallenged for the starting job.
“There will be two or three good days and then a bad day, and we’ve got to limit the bad ones,” Scott said. “If you have one bad kick, it can’t lead to two, three or four. Him being a fifth-year senior and all the stuff he’s been through last year, I think he’s in a better place mentally.”
Redshirt freshman Jonn Young apparently is slotted to handle kickoff duties, which should be a leg-saver for Molina.
“We were in a position last year where we needed Mike to be our kickoff guy and our placekicker, and he wore down as the season went on, especially those last two to three games,” Scott said. “If we can take that off him and have him focus on one thing, I think it will be better for our football team.”