MORGANTOWN-Heading into West Virginia University's football game on Saturday against Connecticut, one of the biggest questions for first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen and his No. 16 Mountaineers surrounded the team's lack of consistency in its punting game.
Following his 43-yard average on five punts in his first appearance at the position, former Parkersburg South standout Michael Molinari not only put an end to those concerns but also earned Special Teams Champions honors from the coaching staff.
"Just amazing," explained Molinari. "I was a little nervous going into that first punt. But, once I got through that, I felt fine and just let my talent take over."
Photo by Michael Uhl
Former Parkersburg South standout Michael Molinari took over the punting duties for WVU on Saturday.
Molinari, who had not attempted a live punt since the 2010 North-South All Star Football Classic, had been the team's holder on extra points and field goals since spring drills, but added the punting chores when junior Corey Smith's only punt in WVU's 55-10 win over Bowling Green sailed only 14 yards before going out of bounds.
"I've dreamed about it all of my life," Molinari said of kicking for WVU. "I knew that if I got my opportunity that I would have to make the most of it."
The redshirt freshman's first attempt came on WVU's first possession of the second quarter from the Mountaineers' 26 yard line. The boot traveled 46 yards to Connecticut's 28 before the Huskies' Nick Williams returned it 12 yards to give the visitors a first-and-10 at the own 40.
Former Parkersburg South standout Michael Molinari averaged 43 yards on five punts in his debut with the Mountaineers.
Molinari, who had not attempted a live punt since the 2010 North-South All Star Football Classic, had been the team's holder on extra points and field goals since spring drills.
His efforts earned Special Teams Champions honors from the coaching staff.
"I just wanted to keep my eyes on the football and do all the things we'd worked on during the week," Molinari said. "It really helped to get that one in. I was able to settle down after that."
Settle down is right.
With Connecticut leading, 6-3, and WVU's second drive of the quarter stalled at the UConn 38, Molinari was called upon to try and pin the Huskies deep in their own territory. However, a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back to the UConn 43. That would prove to be no problem for the Mountaineers' newest punter.
"I was actually thankful for the penalty," explained Molinari. "It put the ball in better position for my pooch kick."
Which the 190-pounder executed to perfection, sending his second punt of the game out of bounds at the UConn 2.
"That's my specialty-the directional punt and the pooch. I knew there was a penalty on the first kick, but I went ahead and punted it. The second one felt good off of my foot and I thought it would either be a touchback or out of bounds close to the end zone."
It was the latter and Molinari found himself the recipient of a huge welcome once he reached the sidelines. Even from his head coach.
"Sometimes you have to put kids in game situations," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "He (Molinari) took advantage of his situation."
Molinari's third attempt traveled only 35 yards, but the height he placed on the boot forced UConn's Williams to call for a fair catch at the Huskies' 30. Punt No. 4 traveled 46 yards and pinned the visitors inside their 20-yard line once again at the 14 while his final punt of the afternoon traveled 47 yards and resulted in the Huskies having to start their third possession of the final quarter at their own 13 after a minus-2 yard return by Williams.
"You hope your dreams become your reality," said Molinari. "This is just an amazing feeling."
One Mountaineers fans around the country, and especially in Parkersburg, hope Molinari will continue to have as WVU enters the second half of its season.