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VOL. 43 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 13, 2019

The science of perfect placekick hold

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Brett Kern holds the ball in a forward position for placekicker Ryan Succop, indicating he’s kicking into the wind. The forward angle gives the kick “ a little more of a piercing flight.”

-- Photo By Aj Mast | Ap Photo

It seems like one of the simplest jobs in football, but in reality it involves physics, geometry and even some meteorology to do it right.

That job is being the holder on field goals and extra points, and Titans Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern has become quite adept at his “other job” over the years as the guy who gets the ball down for Titans kicker Ryan Succop.

Part of the job as a holder is communicating with the kicker, figuring out how the wind may be blowing and dealing with the field conditions and the angles and trajectory of the kicks.

“Honestly, it depends on the kicker,” Kern says of how he holds the football. “You can hold the ball multiple different ways, depending on the wind and how far the kick is.

“You want to lean it a little bit forward if you’re kicking into the wind to have a little more of a piercing flight.

“Before Ryan and I go out there, we just kind of communicate. We’ll communicate in warmups that the wind is going this way in this direction, and there’s just a lot of different variables that go into each hold.”

Succop says wind direction also can affect how he wants Kern to hold the ball.

“Depending on what the wind is doing, if we have a really strong right to left wind, then I’m going to want him to lean that ball further toward him, so that the weight of the ball will help fight the wind a little bit,” Succop says.

“There’s a lot that goes on that people watching on TV probably wouldn’t pick up on. It’s definitely an art.”

Kern says he fell into the holding gig by accident during his sophomore year at the University of Toledo because former NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski gave up the holding duties after he became the Rockets’ starting quarterback.

“In high school I kicked, so our quarterback held,” Kern recalls. “My freshman year at Toledo, I didn’t hold. Bruce Gradkowski held. But then he kind of didn’t want to do it anymore because he was obviously doing the quarterback thing.

“That’s when I told the head coach, ‘I’m with the kicker all the time, so let me try to work on holding and see how it goes.’”

A good holder must be able to field the snap, spin the laces the right way and get the ball into the position the kicker wants.

“The first thing is probably just having quick hands, just consistency in lining up the same every time so that every time you catch the ball you know visually where to put the ball in the same spot every time,” Kern notes.

Succop appreciates the work that Kern puts in with his side job.

“Holding is a really hard job,” he says. “I don’t think people understand that. Brett does a great job here, and I’m really fortunate to work with him.

“One, you’ve got to have somebody that wants to do it. You’ve got to have somebody that wants to take some pride in it.

“Obviously, having good hands helps. You’ve got to be able to put the ball down quick. You’ve got to be able to pick your spots, and then you may have to manipulate the laces and get them turned around.”

Kern says longtime long snapper Beau Brinkley makes his job as the Titans holder much easier.

“Beau and I have obviously been together for a long time, so we’ve had a lot of reps together. The more you do it, the better you get at it,” he says.

The former Missouri Tiger has been the Titans’ center on punts and field goals since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2012.

When he first began holding, Kern would lower the JUGS machine to the level of a long snap and practice catching the spinning ball that way.

“You just work on throwing the ball back there, not knowing where the laces are at or anything like that. I’d just say that with the whole repetition, the more reps you get the more comfortable you get at it,” he adds.

Done correctly, holding is one of those jobs that go largely unnoticed by the casual fan. But it isn’t lost on Succop, whose livelihood depends on it.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, and you’ve got to get it down real quick. It’s not an easy job at all,” Succop says.

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