September 18, 2013 7:37:20 PM
STARKVILLE -- Devon Bell's attitude isn't like most kickers and that might just be his problem.
The Mississippi State sophomore kicker isn't always calm and doesn't have a casual view of life and his job on the football field. He wants badly to be a incredibly reliable field goal kicker and that burning desire is what his coach feels like is his hurdle to becoming a signature weapon for MSU in 2013.
"Devon is a big effort guy and kicking is a skill," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "That's something we constantly talk about: Is the skill related to the effort? Sometimes he starts trying harder and harder."
Bell's constant searching for answers has led to confounding statistics from field goals from 30-39 yards away, arguably the most common field goal attempts in football. From that specific distance range, Bell is currently 6-of-12 in 16 career games including missing a 35-yard attempt wide right in the first quarter Saturday in a 24-20 loss at Auburn.
"It's not a mental problem I need to overcome, I'm not nervous and I'm not thinking about other things," Bell said Monday. "I'm simply kicking the ball too hard, period. It's an easy fix."
So in Bell's mind the "easy fix" can be corrected before MSU (1-2) takes the field to host Troy (2-1) Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium (6:30 p.m., FSN South). However, Mullen has concerns
Bell actually has a better percentage on field goals beyond 40 yards (5-of-8) in his college career and was recruited to MSU from Warren Central High School in Vicksburg for the strength of his leg.
Mullen, who has coached the special teams in a staff effort, compared Bell's struggled with mid-range field goals to skill of swinging a golf club in terms of the rhythm and consistency required.
"The harder you try to swing (a golf club) when you get frustrated, the more sideways it's going to go," Mullen said. "As a effort guy, he's got to stop the effort and focus on the skill and it's sometimes hard to do for a young player."
Bell is actually a avid and proficient golfer and compared his mentality on mid-range field goals as standing on the tee overlooking a very difficult par-4 hole.
"It's like pulling driver on a tight par-4 and then trying to hit the ball as hard as you can," Bell said of his current mindset on all field goals. "Who cares how far the ball goes if it's not straight?"
Out of high school, Bell was named first-team All-America selection by Sports Illustrated. His best prep game was where he connected on four field goals, including a career-long 55 yard attempt against Jim Hill High School and his strong leg made him an easy selection to participate in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game, where he connected on a 30-yard field goal. Bell was the first kicker recruited by Mullen's staff at MSU and eventually decided to stay at home by picking Mississippi State over Ole Miss, Auburn or Florida State.
While he was at MSU's Big Dawg Camp two years ago, former MSU kicker Brian Hazelwood was a guest instructor and instantly saw the raw tools that Mullen and the MSU staff saw in Bell. He also saw a mentality that's just different than a normal kicker.
"I love his mentality because if he misses a kick, he's out of his mind but he wants to go harder, harder, harder but sometimes you have to work on the skill aspect and not the effort," Mullen said.
Last season as a freshman Bell set three individual season records by hitting 14-of-21 field goals, 43-of-44 PATs and averaged 60.3 yards on 64 kickoffs, with 13 touchbacks.He finished the 2012 regular season seventh in scoring among true freshmen in Football Bowl Subdivision programs with 85 points.
The MSU sophomore kicker understands he must turn around this slump because he's going to be asked at least once in the final nine games to attempt a incredibly important kick where it'll be thousands of fans watching him alone. MSU walk-on kicker Evan Sobiesk has only attempted and converted on two extra point attempts in his college career.
"I get that I'm the one that's got to put the ball through the uprights for my team and put points on the board," Bell said. "That's my job."
One of Mullen's favorite things about Bell is his mentality to demand he be treated like a football player and not just a kicker as the specialists have a tendency to be looked upon as independently contracted from the team.
"I've always been a competitive, Type-A personality and that's just how I'm comfortable feeling about life," Bell said. "It's the most difficult thing for me to dial back the effort in order for better results. Not too many things are that way in this world."
However, now that he's on campus as the only scholarship kicker on the roster, Mullen would like Bell to rein back on his intensity as he tries to overcome his slump on mid-range kicks.
"He has a very strong leg. With him, it's that consistency," MSU's fifth-year head coach said. "He just needs to have a nice, smooth consistent leg swing. That leg swing will make the field goals. He doesn't need to kick it like a kickoff every time."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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