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Scholarships for kickers? Franklin has shown willingness to go that route

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jordan Stout

Earlier this week, Penn State gained a commitment from punter Alex Bacchetta, who became the 11th member of the Nittany Lions Class of 2022. During James Franklin’s tenure at PSU, the Nittany Lions have frequently utilized scholarships on kickers and punters, equaling or eclipsing just about every other DI program during that span.

If he ultimately signs, Bacchetta will become the sixth kicker/punter on scholarship in the past seven seasons. Here’s a look at the previous players on scholarship, dating back to 2016:

Class of 2021: Kicker Sander Sahaydak

An in-state product, Sahaydak will soon begin his career with the Nittany Lions. From Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Sahaydak was a three-star recruit who was ranked second nationally among kickers, per the 247 Sports Composite. His other scholarship offers came courtesy of Rutgers and Army.

Kohl’s Kicking, which focuses on kickers, punters, and long snappers, ranked Sahaydak as the eighth-best kicker in the class, noting that he has special leg speed and has the ability to hit from 55-65 yards. However, with both Jake Pinegar and potentially Jordan Stout ahead of him in the pecking order for kicking, Sahaydak may not make a significant impact for the Nittany Lions for another year or two.

Class of 2019 (via transfer): Kicker/Punter Jordan Stout

Unlike the other kickers and punters on this list, Stout was not offered a scholarship out of high school by Penn State. Instead, he walked on at Virginia Tech for his first two seasons, and then transferred when the Nittany Lions offered a scholarship beginning in the 2019 campaign.

As a high-school recruit, Stout was ranked 17th among punters and 35th among kickers by Kohl’s Kicking, which noted that he was dominant on kickoffs and was developing into one of the top combo (kicker/punter) prospects in the class.

During his two seasons at Penn State, Stout is 4-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 57 yards, while punting 33 times for an average of 41.5 yards. Perhaps his biggest impact has come on kickoffs, however, as he has sent 108 of his 133 kicks for touchbacks.

As a redshirt senior but with potentially two years of eligibility remaining, Stout will likely continue to make an impact as the primarily punter and kickoff specialist, as well as on long field goal attempts.

Class of 2018: Kicker Jake Pinegar

A three-star prospect, Pinegar was ranked sixth among kickers by 247 sports for the Class of 2018. The Ankney, Iowa native selected the Nittany Lions over offers from Indiana, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Western Illinois.

Kohl’s Kicking viewed Pinegar as the ninth-best kicker, calling him one of the best athletes in the class and saying that his “A” ball on kickoffs was top three nationally.

Pinegar has been up and down in his first three seasons in Happy Valley, making 36-49 field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards, and has connected on 136 extra points. As a sophomore in 2019, Pinegar was almost automatic, making 11-12 field goals, but he seemingly regressed this past campaign. Additionally, he typically gives way to Stout on longer attempts, and has kicked off just three times in his career.

Now a senior but with another year of eligibility remaining if he chooses, Pinegar appears likely to maintain his role of kicking short-range field goals, as well as extra points.

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Class of 2016: Punter Blake Gillikin, Kicker Alex Barbir

The first two kicker/punter scholarships under James Franklin at Penn State went to Gillikin and Barbir.

Gillikin, a native of Atlanta who went to Westminster School (the same school that Bacchetta attends), was a three-star talent who was ranked second among punters per the 247 Sports Composite. His other scholarship offers consisted of Georgia, Northwestern, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Army.

Kohl’s Kicking ranked Gillikin fourth among punters in the class, highlighting his confidence and competitiveness, and stating that the ball jumps off his foot very well.

In his four years at Penn State, Gillikin unleashed 239 punts, averaging a distance of 43.0 yards, which tied for the second-best average in PSU history. He earned a myriad of awards and honors with the Nittany Lions, and ultimately signed with the New Orleans Saints last year.

Barbir, meanwhile, was a fellow three-star prospect, and ranked 11th among kickers per the 247 Sports Composite. His other scholarship offers included Rutgers, where he was initially committed, as well as Illinois, Louisville, Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The Cumming, Georgia native was ranked 14th among kickers by Kohl’s Kicking, which noted his great leg speed on longer field goals, as well as hang time and distance on kickoffs.

His contributions at Penn State were very limited, however, as he redshirted in 2016, and then booted just six kickoffs in 2017. He transferred after that campaign, and gave up football until returning to the gridiron with Liberty in 2020.

Barbir was a late addition to the class, as he filled the void left by the decommitment of Quinn Nordin. Nordin, who was ranked the best kicker in the Class of 2016 per the 247 Sports Composite, ultimately signed with Michigan. After redshirting in 2016, Nordin made 42 of 58 field goals during his career with the Wolverines, with a long of 57 yards, as well as 120 extra points.

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Commentator, host and writer for high-school and college sports, including @WestmorelandSN, @CarlowCeltics, @PACSports, @PSNKsports and Latrobe Bulletin.

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