Nearly automatic at a position in need of stability, kicker Christian VanSickle is our 2022 Rice Football Special Teams Player of the Year.
There was a point during the 2021 season when Rice football just stopped kicking field goals. The coaching staff wisely made the decision to go for it on fourth down more often rather than put the ball at the feet of anyone in the specials teams room, resulting in zero field goal attempts after November 6 and a whopping 10 fourth down tries.
That was the backdrop that Christian VanSickle stepped into this season. Competence would have been enough. He was excellent and a sure-fire selection for our 2022 Rice Football Special Teams Player of the Year.
With VanSickle’s foot doing the honors, Rice improved from 5-for-11 (45%) on field goal tries to 11-of-16. (69%). Van Sickle did not miss a single extra point; the Owls missed two such tries the season prior.
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But it wasn’t just the overall bump in numbers that made VanSickle so reliable, it’s how those statistics were accumulated. VanSickle converted his first 10 attempts, beginning the year a staggering 10-for-10.
In that span, he made six kicks from beyond 30 yards. Rice had one such make all of last season. He had four go through the pipes from 40+ yards away. And this after attempting his first collegiate field goal last season. For someone brand new to the position to give his team the utmost level of reliability was truly remarkable.
“He’s been awesome,” special teams coordinator Chris Monfiletto said. “He’s put in the time.”
The field goal unit went from a liability to an asset in the span of one season and VanSickle was the prevailing reason for that improvement.
VanSickle wasn’t perfect. He did end the year on a surprising cold spell, missing five of his last six attempts. Cold and windy conditions in the Owls’ final two games of the season clearly impacted the ball coming off his foot and a few more makes in the regular season finale against North Texas could have elevated his stature even further. Nevertheless, what he did for this team this year was crucial.
If VanSickle doesn’t emerge, Rice football probably drops at least one more game along the way. He contributed 13 points himself in the Owls’ seven-point win over UTEP. He was responsible for seven points in a tight game that would become a 12-point win over Louisiana. For an offense that had its ups and downs, VanSickle was extremely consistent, and that’s what Rice football needed the most.
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