MARSHALL - Be ready when your time comes.
It's a message coaches impress upon their backup players constantly, but it's no easy task. It takes a high level of mental focus and physical preparation for backups to ensure there will be little to no drop off in performance when their number is called.
For a kicker, it's even harder. It's a job that requires not only the skills to make the kick, but a tremendous level of self-confidence.
SMSU senior Lance Schuveiller, the Mustangs' kickoff specialist in 2011, hadn't made a field goal in a game since his redshirt freshman year in 2009, and hadn't punted the ball at all in his collegiate career. But when junior kicker/punter Mike Wenk suffered a bone bruise above his knee prior to the Mustangs' season opener, Schuveiller saw his responsibilities increase dramatically.
At first it was thought to be a season-ending injury. Then the coaching staff heard Wenk could be back for the first game. But the pain was too much for Wenk, and what was once thought of as a week-to-week injury has likely ended his season.
That meant it was Schuveiller's time to take over, and he was ready.
"I took it as, you just have to ready for it to be long term no matter what," Schuveiller said. "You can't go into each week thinking, 'Oh, he's going to come back next week so I can slack off.' I took it as it was going to be the whole season and if it wasn't, then I would just step into my role again."
It was a bump start for Schuveiller as he had his first field goal attempt blocked against Minnesota-Duluth. His second went much better, as he drilled a 26-yard field goal as time expired to lift SMSU to a 32-30 win over Northern State. Last week against Upper Iowa he made another huge kick, slitting the uprights on a clutch 49-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for what turned out to be three big points in a 38-37 win.
Heading into today's matchup with Winona State, the Mustangs' final road game of the season, Schuveiller has made 7 of 10 field goal attempts and 26 of 28 extra point kicks. He has had his struggles with punting, but last week he averaged 42.5 yards on two punts and kicked his first 50-plus yard punt of the season.
Wenk was a second team All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division punter both his freshman and sophomore seasons, so it would be difficult to equal his production for almost anyone. But the Mustangs have been more than pleased with how Schuveiller has handled his increased workload.
"It's really no surprise," said Anthony Kerr, SMSU's special teams/linebackers coach. "Lance, he's a very hard worker. You come in and watch him work out in the weight room and you would not know he's a kicker. He works out right next to the guys just as hard, if not harder than a lot of them. I had a lot of confidence in him and knew that from his work ethic he would be successful when he got out on the field. He's been given the opportunity and he's done a great job with it."
Schuveiller, who had his own injury problems earlier in his career and received a medical redshirt in 2010, says kickers are often misunderstood by average fans, who don't realize the athleticism it takes to excel at the position. He himself earned all-conference honorable mention as a wide receiver at Park Center High School and was named his team's most valuable offensive player.
"For a kicker, it's a different lifestyle for sure," he said. "You're not the quarterback or a highlight of the team, so it's just kind of an afterthought.
"It's a tough position. Everyone says that they think they can go out there and do it, but until you actually do it, it's a big challenge. It's not easy. You have to be really skilled and have to be an athlete to do it, and a lot of people don't think you have to be. Sometimes you have to run people down on punts and kickoffs to prevent touchdowns, and other times you have to win games with your leg. It's a huge position, but it's overlooked a lot."
Schuveiller has been able to show his athleticism on a few occasions. Against the University of Sioux Falls, he had a rare highlight-reel punt when he had to rush back to retrieve a bad snap that sailed well above his head and still managed to get off a strong punt. And in SMSU's homecoming win against Wayne State, he had to make tackles on two different occasions to help prevent the Wildcats from reaching the end zone.
"He wants people to know that he's not just a kicker, he's an athlete who's capable of making some football plays," Kerr said. "We give out the horseshoe helmet stickers for whoever gets a tackle on kickoffs. I hate to give it to him because you never want the kicker making that tackle, but when the opportunity has been there, he's made it happen."
Schuveiller said he's even let the coaches know he's willing to help out the team's banged-up receiving corps, if needed.
"I've actually gone up to Coach and told him that I can step in whenever he wants me to, but he says, 'No, we're OK. We'll just have you keep kicking,'" Schuveiller said with a smile.
After his big field goal and improved punting from last week, Schuveiller is playing with a high level of confidence. So are the Mustangs (3-5 overall) as a whole as they head into today's NSIC South matchup looking to upset Winona State (6-2).
"Ever since the Sioux Falls game we've been bringing it and playing hard and it's great," Schuveiller said. "You can feel it in the locker room. Everyone is confident and we just need to keep that going against Winona and the rest of the games we play."