Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hazley's personality matches his consistent kicking stroke

The flaky kicker is dead at Virginia Tech.

Gone are the days of Carter Warley building a mini colosseum in his apartment so he could watch his 4-foot python chase rats, gladiator-style. Gone are the loners, the cut-ups, the misfits.

These days, it's just a parade of stone-faced nice guys -- mature, fifth-year seniors with seemingly robotic legs.

Jud Dunlevy. Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron.

Now it's Chris Hazley, who might be the best one-year wonder of them all.

And the least flaky. Unless he really is flaky and we just don't know it.

How about it, Chris?

"Hmm ... Define flaky," he said.

That answers that. If you need a definition, you've never earned the label. And that's just fine with the Hokies, who might need Hazley's golden boot to escape Miami with a victory this afternoon.

Have you been watching this guy? In last week's win over North Carolina, Hazley nailed four field goals for the second time this season (Boston College was the other). Included was a career-long 52-yarder that tested the exact limit of his self-expressed range.

Now he's thinking he could have a shot from 55 yards away.

"Fifty-five, maybe 57 -- I would definitely want to try that," he said. "I would love to try a 62, but I might need a little wind at my back."

Shoot, they should let him try it. We have no reason to doubt him. A guy who didn't play football until his senior year of high school has shredded naysayers at every turn this season.

Hazley is averaging nine points a game, which ties him for the ACC scoring lead with Andre Ellington of Clemson and Keith Payne of Virginia. The former walk-on hasn't misfired since his first attempt of the year against Boise State.

If he makes his next one, he'll have 18 in a row, breaking a school record shared by Chris Kinzer (1986) and Brandon Pace (2006).

"Honestly, I've never really been in this situation," said Hazley, when asked about the run. "So it's all going to be new to me. I'm just going to take it day by day and focus on the next practice."

Tech's offense is better than it used to be, no doubt, but trips to Miami seem to bring out the point-strapped slugfests -- and increase the value of a kicker like Hazley.

The Hokies gutted out a 16-10 victory in 2004.

In '06, they won 17-10.

Two years ago, they dropped a 16-14 affair.

Like all of Tech's matchups post-Boise, today's falls a few bacon strips shy of the usual sizzle. Miami has been good but not great. The Hokies don't have to win today to claim the Coastal Division crown. The game got a marquee time slot, but the play-by-play will be brought to you on ESPN by Pam Ward, whose voice has become synonymous with Northwestern fumbles and Indiana sacks.

So if it does turn out to be a relatively quiet day, Hazley would be an appropriate hero. The former soccer player says he has no idiosyncrasies. He has no crazy hobbies.

He does have an undergraduate degree in marketing management, which is cool if you're playing a flake-free position. "Now you're giving kickers a bad stereotype," he said with a smile.

There's a new kicking stereotype at Tech, and he fits it.

"The last four field goal guys have all kind of been the same guy," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They're kicking their senior year, they've been around a lot. They're all smart guys, They're all reliable guys, They're not flighty or flaky; that's not them. They're all pretty serious -- serious about school work, serious about life, and very mature.

"To me, that's the kind of kicker you want."

It is. But just for fun, somebody really ought to buy this guy a python.

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