Hairston hopes to carry on LSU kicking tradition

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIGLSU's James Hairston kicks off after a touchdown during the first half of the Tigers' win over Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., in 2011.
Advocate file photo by BILL FEIGLSU's James Hairston kicks off after a touchdown during the first half of the Tigers' win over Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., in 2011.

LSU has enjoyed a steady parade of reliable kickers in recent years, each one passing the torch to his successor without many complications. From Colt David to Josh Jasper to Drew Alleman, the Les Miles era has seen some of the best kicking specialists in school history, all three names littering the program’s record book.

The Tigers’ Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup with No. 14 Clemson on New Year’s Eve not only marks the end of 2012 but also the close of Alleman’s days at LSU. Next in line is sophomore James Hairston, who has spent the past two seasons being groomed to fill the large shoes left by those before him — a job he knows is no easy task.

“It’s a lineage. That’s what we’ve established here,” Hairston said. “We’ve got great players in all positions, and if you look through the years, we’ve always had great kickers here. There’s something about that, inherently, that you’ve got to come in here and be a dang good kicker. That’s just the way it is.”

Hairston has spent the majority of his time at LSU as the kickoff specialist, taking over as a freshman last season before the West Virginia game. He hasn’t relinquished his spot since then, but is hoping to be promoted to the No. 1 place-kicker next season.

His leg strength won him the job a year ago, producing 16 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs as a true freshman.

With the new college football kickoff rules pushing the ball 5 yards closer this season, his duties have been altered a bit; now, he tries to pin the ball between the goal line and the 5.

While it’s not a direct translation to kicking field goals, Hairston said his time launching kickoffs has been a good steppingstone to being a place-kicker next season.

“Mentally, even on kickoffs, I’ve got a little window that I’ve got to put that ball in,” Hairston said. “I can’t spray it down the middle of the field. I’ve got to put it where the coaches tell me to put it. It’s the same thing with field goals. I’ve got a little brown ball that I’ve got to put through some pretty wide posts, so I like my chances.”

Hairston isn’t the only one confident in his abilities. Alleman works with Hairston at practice, tweaking his form and giving pointers whenever necessary, and said the team has “all the confidence in the world” in Hairston’s abilities.

“He’s going to be great next season,” Alleman said. “He’s got a strong leg. He has all the technique, he has all the ability and everything, he has. He just needs to put it together and go with it. He’ll step up and do a great job.”

Even though Hairston has yet to attempt a field goal in a game for LSU, he already seems poised to take over the job next season.

He’s worked with big-name kicking coaches like Rocky Willingham and Chris Sailer the past few seasons and has taken other tips and hints from kickers across the country — in particular, Stanford’s Jordan Williamson and Notre Dame’s Nick Tausch, both
Texas natives.

Hairston is from Dallas.

If he does win the job, his first assignment will come in his backyard. The Tigers take on TCU in the season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which he calls “a dream come true.”

But even though Hairston is the clear front-runner for the position next season, the business major has taken a professional approach to the opening.

“I kind of look at it as, I’m applying for a job,” Hairston said. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make sure I’m the best guy so that the coaches do pick me. With that mindset — that business background that the E.J. Ourso School of Business has instilled in me — I think it’s going to really help me out. I’m just working hard and focusing on what I’ve got to do as a kicker to get better.”

It’s that attitude and mindset that resonates throughout the locker room, and gives the coaching staff confidence that it has the right man for the job.

“He’s a great teammate,” Miles said. “First of all, I think he really enjoys ‘team,’ and I think the things that he does is reflective on what he can do for his team. He sees it that way. He’s an unselfish guy with great enthusiasm for his fellow teammates. I think our guys have enjoyed him and will
continue to enjoy him.”