By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Virginia Tech won seven football games in 2012, and three came on field goals in the final seconds or overtime.
What a feeling for Cody Journell.
“It was great,” Journell said. “A lot of kickers never get that opportunity to be able to hit one game-winning field goal so to have that many in one season was really awesome.”
Journell would love to do it again on Saturday when the Hokies open the 2013 season against top-ranked Alabama in Atlanta. He did it in the opener last year, making a field goal to force overtime and then connected again to beat Georgia Tech in overtime.
“Opportunities like that are once in a lifetime,” Journell said. “Obviously everyone is really geared toward trying to beat them, they just claimed a new dynasty, getting to play a team like that and maybe get the upset is a great opportunity.”
After a long offseason following a difficult 7-6 mark in Blacksburg, Journell and the Hokies are glad to be back on the field.
“It is definitely good to be back, everybody anticipated a lot in the summer and there have been a lot of guys working here really hard,” he said. “Everyone is determined to come in and make this a good year.”
A standout as more than just a kicker at Giles High School, Journell was given the opportunity to play at Virginia Tech after getting a rare scholarship for a specialist from Hokies’ head coach Frank Beamer.
That was the first time Beamer had personally offered a scholarship to a kicker since Shayne Graham, who was a star for the Hokies from 1996-99, and is currently in his 13th season in the NFL, now with the Cleveland Browns.
“I think the last kicker he had brought in was Shayne Graham so to be able to go through high school and see the success he had here and at the next level was just a really big motivating factor for me,” said Journell, about Graham, who played at nearby Pulaski County High School. “Obviously Coach Beamer believed in me and gave me a scholarship so I wanted to prove him right.”
He’s done just that, on the field. In fact, Journell’s goal in 2013 is to be perfect, not only with his legs, but also trying to help Virginia Tech get back on top in the ACC.
“I want to go 100 percent on field goals, just make sure I nail everything I can,” Journell said. “As a team I know we want to win 10 games and win another championship.”
The 6-foot, 183-pound Journell was close last season, making 20 of 25 attempts, and made 34 of 36 extra point attempts. That included overtime field goals to beat Georgia Tech and Rutgers — in the Russell Athletic Bowl — and a memorable game-winner in the final seconds to beat archrival Virginia.
“It was great, especially beating UVa with a game-winning field goal,” said Journell, during Virginia Tech’s media day on Aug. 10. “They have always been a rival, even with me growing up, it has always been a rivalry with UVa so being able to beat them really felt good.”
Beamer has plenty of worries with a team that is looking for rebound from a 7-6 season, but field goals and extra points aren’t one of them.
“Cody is really dependable as a field goal kicker,” Beamer said. “He has a consistent flight, he is a veteran and really good and won like three games for us last year.”
Journell took over as the starter at Virginia Tech as a sophomore, and had a stellar season, making 14 of 17 field goal attempts, and missed just one of 44 extra point tries.
Being able to perform under pressure isn’t something that surprises Giles head coach Jeff Williams, whose Spartans used Journell on both sides of the ball, and as one of the top recruits as a kicker in the nation.
“I think one good thing about Cody is he is tough under pressure and I think one of the reasons that is is the type of football player that he is, he wasn’t just a kicker in high school,” Williams said. “He started at tailback and started at safety in our offense, when you do that with us you are a pretty good football player.
“He is a great athlete, he was a great football player for us and I think stuff like that helps him in his kicking in certain pressure situations like that. I think he looks for the pressure situation and he wants to be in that situation.”
There are times when Journell misses playing other positions on the field, but he certainly isn’t going to change.
“I played all the positions in high school, but honestly when I got here and started kicking I realized that was what I was going to focus on,” Journell said. “I do miss it sometimes, scoring touchdowns, that was awesome, but I will just let the other guys do their job now and I will take care of what I need to do.”
He has done it well, earning All-ACC and All-America honorable mention honors in each of the last two seasons, and is on the Lou Groza List this year as the award that goes to the top kicker in the nation.
“I am real excited for him, it is his senior year, you started reading the paper and he is getting selected to these preseason award lists,” Williams said. “I am hoping he will just have a great year this year.
“I am really looking forward to watching him kick and I am just excited for him and I am just hoping he will have a great year kicking for Tech.”
Those stories about kickers not working as hard as position players certainly doesn’t apply to Journell. His focus is much the same.
“We do a lot of strength training in the offseason, but other than that, it is just form,” Journell said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, but at the same time you are lifting and kicking every day and that helps increase your distance at the same time.”
Virginia Tech saw its run of eight straight 10-win seasons come to an end in 2012, with Journell having to play hero at times to get the Hokies into a bowl game to extend the school’s streak of winning seasons to 20.
“I think we got into a little rut last year and couldn’t really pull ourselves out, but honestly I have never seen guys working as hard as everyone did this summer,” Journell said. “I think everybody is really determined to bring it back to where we had it before.”
With one season left to go, Journell is thinking ahead with hopes of following in Graham’s legs, and getting an opportunity to kick the football in the NFL.
“Definitely, everyone dreams of playing in the NFL,” Journell said. “It has always been a dream of mine so that is the plan, and we will see what happens.”
The NFL can wait for now. Journell wants to enjoy one more season as a Hokie.
“It has gone by so fast,” said Journell, with a smile.
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org