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Michigan kicker Matt Wile smooths out early struggles

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Beyond the postgame locker room celebration, Matt Wile simply went about his business.

Michigan's kicker made three field goals, including one to tie the game and the eventual winner from 37 yards, against Penn State last weekend. He was named the Big Ten special teams player of the week after his career-best performance.

He then went to Grizzly Peak in downtown Ann Arbor with his family.

"Had the smokehouse burger, which was delicious," Wile said, smiling.

That's about as crazy as it got for Wile, who is 8-for-12 on field goals.

As the offense moved the ball closer to field goal range against Penn State, Wile was his usual self, highly involved in the action.

"I was more just really stoked," he said Tuesday as Michigan takes a week off before heading to Michigan State the following Saturday.

"If you ever watch me on the sideline, I get really into the drive. When a big play happens, I'm running partway onto the field. If the ball is on the 50, that means if we can get a certain amount of yards I will be in range.

"Once we start doing that, I like to get three or four kicks into the net. If it's second down, we're in range, I go down there, get next to coach, take a deep breath and I'm usually in a good mindset."

A week before defeating Penn State, which snapped Michigan's three-game losing streak, Wile attempted a 56-yarder that would have given his team the lead at Rutgers with 3 minutes 1 second left.

"Coach (Brady) Hoke called the timeout and asked if I was comfortable kicking it," Wile said. "I wanted to kick it. I thought I would make it."

Wile's kick was blocked by Kemoko Turay, and Michigan lost 26-24.

"As a kicker you can tell if you make a kick when you hit the ball," Wile said. "(When) I hit it, in my mind I was like, 'Oh, my God.'

"I remember looking up and just seeing this guy (Turay) way up top. I thought I made it, and the guy from Rutgers made a great play."

Wile has made improvements and adjustments since the start of the season, when he was 1-for-4. He had been pulling out of his kicks, and now relies on his core to keep his body more square through the kick.

"I've always had trouble from the right hash kicking, those first two games when I went 1-for-4, those three misses were on the right hash, and I was just thinking about it too much," Wile said.

"I'm kind of now to the point, if it's a kick, I've done it thousands upon thousands of times, and it's just a kick."

Despite the struggles, Hoke continued to have faith in his kicker. "I've said it every time, he's been on, he's been hitting the ball well," Hoke said after the Penn State game. "The field goal was blocked (at Rutgers), but he hit it well. His confidence is where you want it to be, where he wants it to be, where we want it to be."

Wile said he never worried about his role following his initial struggles.

"That never got into my head," he said. "I definitely was a tough critic on myself because I knew I was better than I was performing. I just practiced and tried to make sure every time I kick a ball in practice, I try to put myself in the position it does matter."

Like most kickers, though, doubt sometimes creeps into Wile's mind. He won't allow it to linger, though, understanding positive visualization is part of his pre-kick process.

"There's always times you're on the sideline maybe the thought, 'What if I miss?' will pop in," Wile said. "Whenever that thought comes in, I immediately get rid of it and it's immediately replaced with the ref putting his hands up and kicking the ball right down the middle."