Will the home opener this season come down to a last-second field goal?

You get the feeling Jon Embree will be smiling if that scenario were to play out when Colorado hosts Cal on Sept. 10 at Folsom Field.

A year ago, the Buffs suffered a humiliating 52-7 loss in Berkeley that set an ominous tone for Dan Hawkins' final season. If CU kicks the Bears back late in the Boulder rematch, a true freshman from Los Angeles will be the one asked to split the uprights.

Embree named Will Oliver as the starting placekicker following Tuesday morning's pressure-packed practice.

"All I heard when I got in here, I heard about the Cal game and I heard about our kicking problems," Embree said. "Trying to address all of that. I did know we needed to get somebody."

The new coaching staff recruited Oliver, ranked as the No. 12 kicking prospect in the country by kicking guru Chris Sailer, to compete with sophomores Justin Castor and Zach Grossnickle.


After the new kid made nine consecutive attempts from 24 yards, Embree announced the job was his if he made the next try during the early session Tuesday.

With encircled teammates hooting and hollering, Oliver calmly made it a perfect 10. Castor was unable to go for 10-for-10 on three separate occasions during camp.

"I'm kind of taking on whatever comes my way. That's how you have to be as a kicker," Oliver said. "You never know where the kick is going to be or when it's going to happen, so you've just got to be ready when it comes."

CU freshman kicker Will Oliver, above, was named the Buffs’ starting placekicker after practice Tuesday.
CU freshman kicker Will Oliver, above, was named the Buffs' starting placekicker after practice Tuesday. ( Jeremy Papasso )

During Embree's last stint as a CU assistant under Gary Barnett, the staff recruited a kicker named Mason Crosby. The current Green Bay Packers/Super Bowl champion spent some time in Boulder this summer working with the new generation.

"Kicking with him has been awesome. Believe me, he knows what to do," Oliver said of Crosby, a two-time All-American at CU who made 75 percent of his field goals, including some memorable game-winners against Colorado State. "He shed some really good light on different situations you might run into and that kind of stuff. That has been a really good resource."

Embree, who tried to talk Kansas City into drafting Crosby when he was an assistant with the Chiefs, realizes the kicking game, and special teams in general, quickly became a weakness for the Buffs the last four years under Hawkins.

Aric Goodman made just 15 of 32 field goals from 2008-09 before going 10-for-15 as a senior in 2010.

"I know (Oliver) may have a bad day here and there, but he's earned it," Embree said. "He has had two very good days out here where he has not missed. I'll take my chances with him."

Mike Shanahan's least favorite football topic is kickers. Despite working for the Washington Redskins coach last season, Embree doesn't mind shining the light, good or bad, on the placekicker.

"I want them to know they're a part of the team. I expect them to work like the other guys work. If they're going to be a part of the team, I'm going to have to talk about them," Embree said. "I try to coach them with kid gloves, but I just can't, I've gotta be me. If you can't handle me, then you can't kick for me. It's like any other position, I can't suddenly become gentle and kind and talk to somebody differently in the heat of the battle. You have to be thick-skinned."

So far, Oliver has been clutch. And that ability to perform under pressure has earned the respect of his teammates.

"I didn't see this coming at all," safety Ray Polk said of having a starting placekicker emerge in the first week of camp. "There's always going to be competition, and if you're not doing your job right then you're going to lose your job. For him to come in as a freshman and win the job is huge."

After essentially winning the position battle, Oliver made three more situational field goals, two from 42 yards and another from about 35 yards.

"You've got to do it every single day," Oliver said. "I've got to be the starter every single day, otherwise it means nothing."

Right now, the freshman's demeanor might remind some of Crosby, but his range won't.

"I think when you get 50-plus you're probably pressing it a little bit right now. We need to get that coordinator to get us closer than that, right?" Embree said. "He seems confident. The thing I like about him is he has been in some pressure situations."

Oliver made 27 of 29 attempts on the first day of camp, but said the struggles he experienced during the next practice helped him win the job.

"As a kicker, I mean it sounds a little weird to say, but I think that's probably good to have at the beginning of camp," Oliver said. "You kind of feel the pressure and what it's like to hit the ground. And you realize you need to bounce back. The biggest thing with kicking is forgetting and having a short memory, so you can get back on that field and feel as good again."

Grossnickle, Mark Brundage and Darragh O'Neill are competing for the starting punting job, which could also be decided on the spot at any given practice. Former CU and Denver Broncos standout Tom Rouen recently stopped by camp to give the candidates some advice.

"They're on notice," Embree said. "They don't know when, but it will happen."