September 10, 2009 11:08:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Phillip Dimino and Brett Spencer are used to battling the stopwatch.
While their East Mississippi Community College teammates face off against 300-pound linemen or blitzing linebackers, time is the toughest adversary for Dimino and Spencer.
When you kick the football in college, one or two tenths of a second can be the difference between getting off a successful punt or converting a field goal or extra point.
"It is crazy how much a tenth of a second can make a difference in a kick being blocked," Dimino said.
That''s why Dimino, the punter, and Spencer, the kicker, work so diligently on their execution and technique to minimize mistakes that will give opponents a chance to block their kicks.
It''s only two games into the 2009 season, but both players already have made significant improvement, according to special teams coach Ed Holly.
Tonight, they will do their part to show No. 2 EMCC is worthy of its new national ranking when it plays host to Holmes C.C. at 7 at Sullivan-Windham Field.
"Phillip has brought his time down (from snap to kick) from 2.5 or 2.4 seconds to 2.1," Holly said. "He is meeting the ball instead of waiting for it to come to him. He is moving forward as the ball is released. By speeding up that process it allows him to have a great time and to get his kicks off cleanly and quickly."
Holly, who also works with the defensive line and is the program''s recruiting coordinator, said both players have persevered to get to the point where they are key contributors this season.
He said Spencer''s consistency and accuracy have helped him earn the opportunity to kick extra points and field goals for the Lions. Spencer is 5-for-5 in PATs. He hasn''t attempted a field goal.
Dimino, who went to school at West Point High, was the team''s second-leading scorer (behind former Starkville High running back Pat Shed) with 51 points. He made on 42 of 50 PATs and 3 of 6 field goals.
The graduation of punter Charlie Fall after last season gave Dimino a chance to become the team''s punter this season.
Through two games he is averaging 36.1 yards per punt (a long of 47 yards).
"Phillip is doing a great job for us this year," Holly said. "With the graduation of Charlie, that was a huge spot to fill on our special teams. We brought in a bunch of guys (to try out for the position) and Phillip outkicked every single one of them. We are lucky to have him."
In the season opener at Copiah-Lincoln, Dimino had a 24-yard field goal attempt blocked and a PAT blocked. He averaged 30.8 yards on five punts.
In last week''s home win against Jones County, Dimino averaged 41.4 yards on five punts, including kicks of 47 and 46 yards.
Dimino said working with long snapper Holden Coggins, a former youth football teammate who played football at Oak Hill Academy, has helped him refine his technique. He said he feels comfortable working with Coggins and knows that he will get a good snap every time, which has enabled him to focus on execution.
"You can''t think," Dimino said of the speed in which punters have to execute. "If you think you''re going to mess up. You have to work on it in practice until it becomes second nature so when you get out there you can go out and trust all the work you have put in."
Dimino said his leg has gotten stronger and that his punting has come a long way since last season. He said he had a feeling in the spring that he would be asked to handle the punting duties and that he knows he still has a lot more improvement to make before he gets to where he is comfortable.
"I want to get more hangtime and distance," Dimino said. "I am never satisfied. If I punt a ball 45 yards and have a four-second hangtime, I will wonder why I didn''t kick it 50 yards."
Holly said Dimino, a sophomore, has embraced the role and has worked hard to become a better punter and to help Spencer adjust to kicking in college.
Spencer, who went to school at Amory High, is a redshirt freshman at EMCC.
"Spencer has added that many more positives to our kicking game," Holly said. "He is calm, cool, and collected. His expression doesn''t change when he walks out to the field. He takes the same steps and puts it right through the uprights."
Spencer, who said he kicked a game-winning field goal against Caledonia when he was at Amory, said he is eager to attempt his first field goal. He might not get a chance to do that tonight against Holmes C.C. (0-2), but the Lions expect to face one of their toughest tests of the regular season next Thursday when they play host to defending MACJC state champion Mississippi Gulf Coast, currently ranked 11th nationally, on at 7 p.m.
"Perseverance is a big key," Spencer said. "There have been many a days I wanted to say, ''Hey, this is it,'' but I decided that I am going through with it and keeping it up. My family has been there the whole time for me. They have backed me every step of the way and have helped me get where I am now, too."
Spencer said he knows EMCC is where he is supposed to be. He said he would welcome an opportunity next season to take over the punting duties, and if it leads to a scholarship offer to a four-year school, he would be receptive to that, too.
"I just want to kick to the best of my ability all the time," Spencer said. "I am willing to do whatever comes up."
Holly expects Dimino and Spencer to push each other the rest of the season. He said the players'' competitive natures will help them get even quicker in their execution as the season progresses.
The quicker they get, Holly said, the better their chances at kicking at the next level.
"I have learned not to count these two young men out," Holly said. "When they both came in they were not (on the radar to earn) major Division I kicking scholarships, but both of them should be able to earn scholarships at a major Division I school. Their willingness to work hard, their dedication, and their refusal to get beat out by anybody is what will help them succeed."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.