Getting a Kick Out of the NFL Combine

Kicker Jesse Ainsworth

He was one of the best kickers to ever don the maroon and gold, and etched his name in ASU's record books. Consequently, draft pundits have taken notice of Jesse Ainsworth and his skills. On Wednesday he will begin the ever important NFL combine, and try to even further his chances of playing on Sundays as he showcases his skills. Devils Digest talked with Ainsworth before he left for this event.

Jesse Ainsworth will put aside his studies towards a Master's degree, and will join fellow ex-Sun Devils Zach Miller, Zach Catanese, Stephen Berg and Andrew Carnahan in Indianapolis at the NFL combine which runs from the 21-27 of this month. The normally cool and collected place kicker, who set a school record 139 consecutive PAT's, was very excited for the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of NFL coaches and general managers.

"I'm just going into the combine with a positive attitude and knowing that it's gonna be a lot of fun," said Ainsworth from his Thousand Oaks, Calif. home where he has been training ever since he ended his Sun Devil career. "They'll be ton of good players there, and it will be great interacting with players from other schools and coaches from the NFL. I'm hoping to get the most out of it as I can."

Ainsworth's pre-combine training regiment included three days a week strength and conditioning (with obvious emphasis on lower body strength) and three days a week (and on different days than the conditioning ones) working out with renowned kicking instructor Chris Sailer, who advised Ainsworth that the NFL combine for kickers in some manners isn't that different than it is for other positions. "It will be the same for kickers in terms of the tests, medical evaluations…," explained Ainsworth. "There's obviously not a big priority with my 40 (yard dash) times and my bench presses, but I'm gonna go through that testing and all the interviews that the players go through."

The transition for a kicker from the college ranks to the professional ones, is an area that Ainsworth doesn't seem too concern about. "There isn't a huge difference, like there is from high school to college," he commented. "The only difference is that the kickoffs are five yards back and that you have to kick a brand new ball each time. I don't see that being a big issue. I've been kicking new NFL balls and I don't mind it at all."

The ex-Sun Devil kicker's forte has by far been his number of touchbacks. An amazing 39 of his 70 kickoffs were downed in the end zone with no return. This fact certainly didn't escape the attention of NFL front offices and Ainsworth is even further honing his skills in this area of expertise. "That's definitely something that I'm focusing on," he admitted. "I've done well in college and hopefully that will carry well into the NFL. I've gotten better with my consistency (on both kickoffs and field goals) and really making every ball I kick count – make the next kick my best one."

Ainsworth is second in ASU's record books in both career points by kicking (313) and career field goals made (50). Yet, he seems to get a reputation of a kicker who doesn't do particularly well in the field goal kicking department itself, especially from 40 yards and beyond. Overall in 2006, Ainsworth converted 14 out of 19 attempts, and hit his last four attempts from 40 plus yards in the season. "It was nice to finish my career at ASU making my last nine (consecutive) field goals attempted," he remarked. "When you look back, I didn't have a lot of opportunity to kick long field goals, because our offense was so productive and was moving the ball well. It maybe wasn't good for me, but it was definitely great for our team. I can't complain because I was happy we did move the ball well."

In 2005, amid the Sun Devils' struggles in the punting game, Ainsworth was called upon to perform double duty. Nonetheless, he doesn't see that fact as one that could enhance his draft status. "It can't hurt me, but I'm going into the combine as a place kicker," he stated. "Teams know that I can punt in an emergency, which is a good thing. But I'm focusing on just kicking…it was a good thing that I punted in college in that I maintained leg strength and kept lose, but the mechanics are different than kicking, so it didn't help me."

When he looks back at his career at ASU, his only regret is that the four years he spent in Tempe just flew by. He does however plan to keep tabs on his alma mater and especially on his apprentice Thomas Webber who he spoke of in glowing terms. "He's a great kicker that was able to redshirt and now he's on scholarship," said Ainsworth. "He's good all-around with his kickoffs and field goals. He's accurate; he has a strong leg and is able to kick touchbacks. He has four years left at ASU which is great and I look forward to watching him."

Ainsworth is ranked the second highest kicker prospect in the NFL draft by Scout.com, and other draft publications have placed him in the top 5 prospects in his position. Drafting kickers is rarer than it is common, thus he's uncertain of his draft status. "I'm just working on getting myself in the best shape kicking well mechanically, and getting my mind right for whatever happens," he said. "I don't have any favorite NFL team I would like to go to. I'll be grateful wherever I get picked…Right now I'm having fun in the moment and we'll see what happens."

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