Pitt kicker Alex Kessman sets lofty goals while sweating details
Alex Kessman was a boxer in high school.
David Kessman, his father, is a Marine.
And, admirably, he wants to hit at least 90 percent of his field-goal tries this season.
Anyone questioning Kessman’s attention to detail, toughness and ambition need not worry.
“Kess is a perfectionist, as we all know,” said punter, holder and friend Kirk Christodoulou. “I try not to make him too upset.”
Pitt’s kicking game is undergoing a slight change this summer after holder Jake Scarton transferred to Oregon State just before the start of camp. Christodoulou has been holding for Kessman every day, with walk-on wide receiver Mike Vardzel and quarterback Kenny Pickett as backups.
Coach Pat Narduzzi said he doesn’t want to “anoint” a starting holder so early in camp, but he said Christodoulou is in the lead.
Yet Narduzzi said at the outset that the decision is Kessman’s.
“It’s Kirk. No doubt,” Kessman said Tuesday.
He trusts Vardzel and Pickett, but he understands how Pickett might have bettere things to do.
“He’s a busy guy. I can’t work with him like Kirk,” Kessman said. “Kirk, I got him all practice.”
The identity of the holder may be a bit of insignificant trivia on some teams. But Pitt plays close games. In the past three seasons, 17 games have been decided by a margin of seven points or fewer. At Pitt, the kicking game matters.
“It all comes down to a game of inches,” Christodoulou said. “If I put the ball just an inch off the spot, it affects how Kess kicks the ball.”
That’s why Kessman sweats the details.
He learned that in the boxing ring, where he was 9-0 from the time he was 14 until he graduated from Clarkston (Mich.) High School.
What did boxing teach him?
“Discipline,” he said. “Attention to detail.
“The little, little, small things. It will get you beat on the football field. It will get you knocked out in the boxing ring.”
Kessman admitted he may be “a pain in the butt” to Christodoulou and long snapper Cal Adomitis (Central Catholic). But he said they understand.
“I try to do things the right way, treat people the right way,” he said. “It sounds weird, but I clean up after myself.
“That came from my dad. He’s a Marine,” he said, proudly.
On the field, Kessman isn’t afraid to set lofty goals.
He said he wants to successfully hit 90-95 percent of his field-goal attempts. That’s an interesting number, considering only five FBS kickers reached 90 percent last season, led by Wyoming’s Cooper Rothe (16 of 17, 94.1).
Kessman hit 13 of 17 (76.5), improving on his freshman accuracy in 2017 (11 of 19, 57.9).
He acknowledges his goal is high.
“But I really try to work on my craft. Setting high goals helps me do that,” he said.
“Realistically in a game, I can go anywhere from 62 in. If we’re pushing it, I could go out to 65.”
Problems arise with the shorter kicks. He was 2 for 4 between 30 and 39 yards and 4 of 5 between 53 and 55 last season. The 55-yarder against Syracuse is the longest in Heinz Field history (college or pro), and he holds the Pitt record for career field goals of 50-plus yards (six).
How does he miss the short ones and kick the long ones through the uprights?
“It’s all up here. It’s all in my head,” he said. “I have to have the same approach to the 30-39s as I have for the 50s to 60s.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .