Editorial Note: This story was used as the senior feature story for Liberty's game on Nov. 7 against Presbyterian. John Lunsford finished his career ranked first in program history in extra points made (150) and second in field goals made (49). He also completed his career ranked fourth in Big South history in scoring (294) and extra points made (150) and set an NCAA FCS record with 12 50-plus yard field goals.
When it comes to football, kickers have always had the reputation for being, well, just a little bit different.
John Lunsford burst into laughter with the same explosiveness that powers his field goal attempts when reminded of the stereotype, and good-naturedly admitted to fulfilling it.
"Oh yeah, oh, absolutely," the senior kicker declared. "Honestly, I think it's just a universal thing."
Kickers, Lunsford explained, are largely self-contained as a unit. While they are a part of the special teams unit, there are rarely coaches specifically for kickers on a team's staff. When players split off to their respective meetings, kickers are generally left to do as they please — heading to the locker room to talk amongst themselves and toss a Frisbee around.
His own off-field time is spent truly breaking from football. He spends time with his wife and daughter, plays with his dog, golfs and plays drums (or simply puts on music, grabs his sticks and turns whatever furniture is handy into a set). And on game days?
"I've yet to see a kicker with headphones on," Lunsford pantomimed placing an invisible pair on his head, nodding aggressively as if dancing to imaginary music, "bobbing their head around, getting hype and punching walls and getting so intense."
Lunsford instead prepares to take the field by listening to classical music, eating a snack and letting the natural excitement of the event get him ready to perform.
It would be easy to credit these and other unique attributes to kickers' typically atypical football backgrounds. Lunsford, like many others in his trade, was a soccer guy long before he stepped onto the gridiron; and even then, it was only at the urging of a family friend and childhood soccer coach that he attended his first football camp at Appalachian State.
When he made a 70-yard field goal kicking around after a day of that camp ended, high school and college coaches alike made it clear that Lunsford may not have been interested in football, the sport was certainly interested in him. He arrived at Liberty just two years later, and with just two seasons of football under his belt.
The uncommon background with the rest of the team, though, is not what Lunsford thinks makes kickers stand out from their teammates.
The irony, instead, is that for all their differences, kickers simply operate best when things are the same.
"I'm a very routine guy," Lunsford stated emphatically.
He detailed his typical weekly schedule within seconds. He wakes up at the same time, has his clothes for the day pre-selected and goes to the same places on a regular basis.
And nowhere does routine come more into play than in kicking. For such a basic idea as simply kicking a ball, at the end of the day after all — each kicker has their own, individual rituals and quirks.
"I'm pretty unorthodox with how I kick," Lunsford said. "There's a lot of things I do that mechanically aren't correct, which is weird, but it works."
He noted that he prefers to space himself two-and-a-half by two steps away from the ball before a kick — slightly closer than most — and chuckled as he leaned back and sprung forward, "like a little dance," to demonstrate his approach to every kickoff.
And don't mistake his lack of outward display for absence of intensity. While Lunsford won't be firing up the team the way his linebacker teammates might, it benefits him to keep his adrenaline flowing beneath the surface and emotions in check.
"I get hype when I'm out there," Lunsford explained, "but at the end of the day, every kick is the same. If I kicked the ball differently for every situation, I wouldn't be consistent. I need that mental strength."
It's a trait that has certainly benefitted Lunsford in his career at Liberty. Last season was his best yet, earning him the first Big South Special Teams Player of the Year award in Flames football history.
In addition, a 57-yard field goal by Lunsford during Liberty's 45-35 victory over Kennesaw State, two weeks ago, gave the Fort Meyers, Fla., native 12 career 50-plus yard field goals, setting a new NCAA career record for most 50-plus yard field goals by a FCS kicker.
While this season has been one of ups and downs for Lunsford and his teammates alike, the kicker has maintained a positive mindset. He heaps praise on his holders, especially redshirt freshman David King, and expressed particular gratitude towards kicking coach and mentor Brandon Kornblue.
"My sophomore year, I was in a slump. It wasn't good, but I wouldn't change it for anything because God put me and my family through a lot and taught me a lot that year," Lunsford stated. "Not every bad thing is like a punishment, sometimes the bad things, the trials, are so you can become stronger and God can work on you in other areas of life."
It is that truth and peace that allows Lunsford to line up for each kick he takes with confidence. No matter the length and no matter the circumstances, Lunsford kicks with consistency and high expectations. If he misses, he puts it in perspective and readies for the next opportunity.
"Ask anybody who knows me, and they'll say that I'm goofy, I'm outgoing, I'm an extravert," Lunsford laughed. "But when it comes down to it, I can be intense when needed. I like to have a good time, but I know when it's time to be serious."
With just three games left in the Flames season, that time is now, and Lunsford is eager to do his part to help the Flames achieve their goals. He hopes to finish this year the same way he did the last — kicking with precision that gives his teammates and coaching staff confidence.
As for being a little different, well, that will stay the same, too.
"Being a kicker," Lunsford declared with a grin, "is a lifestyle."
by Ryley Rush, a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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