Craig Haley - FCS Executive Director Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Liberty University place-kicker John Lunsford and punter Trey Turner have a running joke going back and forth.
Lunsford tells Turner he is going to win away his starting job.
Turner tells Lunsford to bring it on.
Maybe Turner should feel a little more uncomfortable with such a prospect. Lunsford could possess the strongest foot in all of college football.
"My goal is to take the punting position," Lunsford said, although Liberty coach Turner Gill may be content with keeping his senior to booming field goals and kickoffs.
As a junior last year, Lunsford kicked the season's longest field goal on all NCAA levels - a 60-yarder - as well as two of the other five longest in Division I.
He helped Liberty win a share of the Big South Conference title and advance to the FCS playoffs for the first time.
"I think we have a lot more higher expectations this year because we did make it to the playoffs for the first time and we have (many key players) coming back," Lunsford said. "So the bar is going to be set really high, especially for our offense."
Opponents may ask for the crossbar to be set higher, or farther back, before they face Lunsford. In addition to his Big South-record 60-yard field goal against Richmond, which was kicked into a slight wind, forced overtime as time expired and tied for the sixth-longest in FCS history, he connected on a 57-yarder against Bryant and a 56-yarder in a playoff win at JMU.
The only kickers in Lunsford's range on the FBS level, so to speak, were Indiana's Griffin Oakes with a 58-yard field goal and Maryland's Brad Craddock with a 57-yarder.
Lunsford made 19-of-24 field goal attempts, going 5-for-6 from at least 50 yards, and converted 43-of-44 extra point attempts to finish with 100 points (the lone miss on PATs ended a streak of 94 straight). He also averaged a solid 62.1 yards on kickoffs.
"Give me a longer field goal. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but for me mentally, I definitely have more confidence with longer field goals in games," Lunsford said.
Said Gill of the long-range ability: "It's a good thing that we have in our repertoire."
"Lunsy" has been training recently in his native Florida, attending a kicking camp at the University of Florida under the watchful eye of his kicking coach, Brandon Kornblue, and taking his practice kicks out to the 70-yard range. He's mainly working to be more consistent from 40 yards and in as well as with his ball striking and placement of kickoffs.
From Fort Meyers, Lunsford kicked a 58-yard field goal in a high school game for Evangelical Christian. He then followed his faith to Liberty, the private Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, whose chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., is seeking an invitation for the football program to move up to an FBS conference.
MICHAEL SCHMADEKE IS ON TARGET
While Liberty's John Lunsford booms long-range field goals, Michael Schmadeke's accuracy at Northern Iowa was second-to-none in the FCS last season. As a junior, Schmadeke made 27-of-29 attempts (93.1 percent). Only North Dakota State's Adam Keller (29-for-34) kicked more field goals, playing two more games than Schmadeke, whose season long was from 49 yards. Schmadeke's 132 points set a school record and he was the second-team place-kicker on The Sports Network FCS All-America Team. He's back for his senior season.
At Liberty, Lunsford has been tested more off the field than on it. The 6- foot-1, 180-pound former soccer player earned second-team all-conference honors as a place-kicker in his 2012 freshman season, but early in his sophomore season, his girlfriend Karin became pregnant. Married today, but not then, the pregnancy violated The Liberty Way school codes and forced her and Lunsford into moving off the Liberty campus. The disruption in their lives led to Lunsford's grades suffering and his field goal kicking falling off.
He also missed the 2014 spring game after he was involved in a car accident and required surgery on his forearm. His drop in grades then led to the criminal justice major being suspended from preseason camp and for the first two games of his junior season.
Although humbled by the off-the-field issues, he vowed to move forward last year, and he went on to earn first-team honors on The Sports Network FCS All- America team. Today, Lunsford and Karin are married and the proud parents of 13-month-old Aubree Elizabeth.
Like many kickers, Lunsford has his share of idiosyncrasies. Before a game, he can be found dancing around the field, throwing a football like a quarterback and snapping it like a long snapper. Before an important kick, he will be on the sideline surrounded by his band of bodyguards, the likes of Turner and fellow special-teamers Avery Echols, Lucas Holder, Javan Shashaty and Hunter Winstead, who keep teammates from coming up to him while he concentrates and warms up.
"I don't like it when people come up to me and they're saying, 'Oh, yeah, you got this!' or 'We know you can do it,' or anything like that because for me, every kick is the same," Lunsford said. "So whether it's a 60-yard field goal to tie the game or even like a 27-yard field goal or just an extra point, every kick is the same for me."
Hoping to be on NFL radars for 2016, Lunsford could add the part to his game that his pal Turner may not want to hear about. Lunsford has never punted at Liberty, but in high school, he had a 47-yard average.
"I would definitely sell myself as a K/P (place-kicker/punter)," he said. "If I couldn't punt, then I wouldn't try. But (NFL teams) don't want to hear that you can only do one thing, they want to know that you can do multiple things, so you can be more valuable."
Liberty's offense returns an All-Big South quarterback (Josh Woodrum), two all- conference running backs (D.J. Abnar and Desmond Rice), and an All-America wide receiver (Darrin Peterson). Yet the team's most valuable player might be the place-kicker.