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Pitt

Pitt kicker Kessman can't afford to miss mark

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, March 23, 2017, 7:00 p.m.

Surrounded by a crowd of people with a vested interest in the outcome — some with a critical eye — Pitt kicker Alex Kessman didn't miss his mark.

At a tryout attended by 50 kickers before last season. Kessman beat them all and earned a spot as a walk-on, a back up to senior Chris Blewitt.

A year later, Blewitt is gone, hoping to take his record-setting leg into the NFL. Kessman is a scholarship kicker — the only one on Pitt's roster — and the stakes are raised.

Imagine where the Panthers would be without Blewitt's 48-yard field goal that upset eventual national champion Clemson last year: Pitt would be just another in the school's long line of unremarkable 7-6 (or worse) teams.

Narduzzi admits Kessman, a redshirt freshman from Clarkston, Mich., “is still a baby.”

But he added, “He's got to be ready to roll. He's the guy.”

Kessman attempts field goals every day during spring drills. Some, such as the two Thursday that were good from 44 and 48 yards, hit their mark. The kicks were so high and solidly hit a high school coach watching practice said they would have been good from 60.

Then, there was the shorter attempt that hit the left upright and bounded away.

That's where special teams coach Andre Powell, an expert motivator, gets into the act.

Asked what he likes about Kessman this spring, Powell said, “I don't have an answer for you. He's just a little erratic right now. Too erratic.

“He's not where I was hoping he would be. Strong leg, smooth stroke, but you have to hit it between those two yellow crayons. Otherwise, it don't count.”

No one is panicking at the moment. Certainly not Kessman.

A former high school quarterback who had walk-on interest from Arkansas, Clemson and Miami, Kessman said he won't waste this opportunity.

“I've been (kicking) since seventh grade,” he said. “I'm just blessed to be here and thankful to be here. I won't take it for granted.”

He said he's appreciative Powell is “brutally honest with me.”

“It's always a good thing to have,” he said. “I'm just working out some kinks right now. It'll be good.”

Kessman has plenty of time to live up to Blewitt's standard, but he has a long way to go.

Blewitt was the team's only kicker for four seasons, the first to achieve that distinction at Pitt since Carson Long (1973-76). He set school career records for field goals (55) and extra points (198). Only Tony Dorsett, who scored 63 touchdowns, scored more points in Pitt history than Blewitt, 380-363.

Powell doesn't appear worried about Kessman, who kicked a 57-yard field goal in high school.

“It's all between the ears,” he said. “It's all just rhythm and muscle memory and not letting one kick affect the next.”

Note: Pitt will hold a closed scrimmage, its first of the spring, Saturday at Heinz Field. Narduzzi is eager to see his team under game-type conditions. “It's all live and it's real,” he said. “That's how you're going to move up and down the depth chart. You can make (plays) in the indoor, and it doesn't really matter. You have to make them at Heinz Field.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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