MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Josh Lambert has been at West Virginia for just over a year now and has never looked back at his decision to leave the flatlands of Texas for the mountains so far away.Not that it would do him any good to look back, at least literally."In Texas you can basically look in the distance and see where you're going to end up,'' Lambert said of the largely level landscape that includes the Dallas suburb of Garland, where he grew up. "You come here and you can't see around the corner.''But while the never-ceasing hills and mountains of West Virginia might make things more bunched up and crowded, that's not the case with the kicking competition Lambert is encountering these days. No matter how far he looks and in almost any direction, there just isn't any competition. The redshirt freshman had the job sewn up by default.
When West Virginia's preseason camp began just over a week ago, Lambert was the only kicker on the roster. Dana Holgorsen had the option of bringing 105 players to camp and filled 102 of those spots. But apparently he felt so good about Lambert as his kicker that he didn't even bother to provide him with any competition.If that was a confidence boost or even a curiosity to the young kicker, however, he's not saying."I didn't know what the reason was for me being the only [kicker],'' Lambert said Friday. "But my job's the same whether it's just me, or me and 10 other kids.''Still, didn't it have to make him feel just a tad bit good about himself?"Yes,'' Lambert said. "But I still haven't accomplished anything here. It's still about going out there and doing what I'm supposed to do.''Indeed, while Holgorsen and special teams coach Joe DeForest might seem to have confidence in the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Lambert, the fact of the matter is he remains a giant question mark to most. West Virginia hasn't had to look for a place-kicker in four years while Tyler Bitancurt handled the job. Yes, they brought in Corey Smith for the last two seasons, but he never displaced Bitancurt.Now, though, the slate is clean. There's not a kicker on the roster who has ever scored a college point or even attempted to do so. But that the weight of the responsibilities now rests squarely and solely with Lambert doesn't seem to bother him at all."I'm confident that I can handle it,'' Lambert said. "Kicking is the same in a game as I do every single day in practice. The only difference is there's 80,000 people around you, 60,000 people around you. Same kicks.''Well, so far, so good. Lambert said Friday that in the first week of practice he didn't miss a single kick. He admits to going through a rough patch the past two days, missing two on Thursday and three during a Friday morning practice, but even to that there's a bright side."Everyone misses. It's just how you bounce back,'' said Lambert, who began kicking when a middle school phys ed teacher saw him playing soccer and convinced him to try kicking a football. "It's actually a good thing, after doing good, to go ahead and miss so you know what that feels like. And then you know what to do to bounce back.''One of the reasons Lambert might have hit a rough patch is that during that first week he did all the kicking, admitting that his leg was getting a bit tight. And so now he's not the only kicker in camp, Holgorsen having put out a call to freshman Mike Molina from Hurricane.
Unless something completely unexpected happens, though, Molina's task is merely to help save Lambert's leg and perhaps to compete for the kickoff job. The recent misses in practice have done nothing to curb Lambert's confidence or, perhaps, that of his coaches in his ability to get the job done.Like any kicker, much of the issue is mental. Lambert says when he misses it's almost always because he doesn't follow through and pushes the ball right."If you do something good, you want to think about what got you to that point,'' Lambert said. "And if you do something bad, yeah, you need to understand what you did wrong, but you don't need to dwell on it too much because it's going to come back to bite you in the butt later on. The most important kick is the next kick.''Lambert says his range is just over 50 yards and he wouldn't hesitate to try something longer, although at about 59-60 he reaches his max. Hopefully, the need for a 50-plus-yard kick won't arise until he gets settled into the job after a kick or two or even a game or two, because he admits he might be just a tad nervous."I've never had to go a year without actually playing, so yeah, I'm excited,'' said Lambert, who hasn't kicked in a game since high school in 2011. "Everyone's going to be a little nervous. It'll be my first game in front of a lot of people, a lot of eyes on me and a lot of weight on my shoulders.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.