BLACKSBURG – Following Tech’s first practice, head coach Frank Beamer spoke glowingly of a kicker named Ludwig. Further research revealed that he was referring to Mitchell Ludwig, a walk-on from Abingdon, Va.
“He had an outstanding night kickoff-wise and did some nice punting,” Beamer said after Tech’s first practice.
Ludwig, a 5-11, 192-pounder, averaged 43 yards per punt his senior season at Abingdon High School and made 11 field goals. Also, 40 of his 46 kickoffs went for touchbacks. He boomed over 70 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone his junior season.
That is really what intrigues Beamer about Ludwig. A year ago, Beamer tried three different kickers as the kickoff specialist, with varying degrees of success. Michael Branthover started out as that guy, and then Brooks Abbott got a look. Toward the very end of the season, though, Beamer replaced Abbott with Cody Journell. Abbott decided over the summer to transfer.
“We could never get the consistency in the kickoffs that we were looking for, and I ended up going with Cody Journell because I thought we had a better shot of getting the ball where we wanted on the field,” Beamer said. “If you don’t have a shot at getting it to the end zone, you definitely want to place the ball. You want the ball where you’re coverage is going to be. I thought Cody gave us the best deal with that.
“If Ludwig can continue the way he did tonight [during the first practice] – he was knocking them to the back of the end zone and out of the end zone – then that takes care of kickoff returns.”
Ludwig said he was aware of Tech’s kickoff struggles last season while watching the Hokies as a senior at Abingdon. He received interest from a couple of other Football Bowl Subdivision schools, but turned them down to walk on at Tech.
“Charley Wiles [Tech’s defensive line coach] had been recruiting me for a couple of years, and he came to one of my football games this past season,” Ludwig said. “He really liked me. He showed interest. Then a week before signing day, I decided to come here.
“I had offers from Richmond, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. This is a big football school. It’s amazing here – the stadium, the fans. I wanted to go to a big football school. I wanted that experience.”
Ludwig honed his craft under Doug Blevins, an Abingdon-based kicking guru who has been developing kickers since 1978. In fact, Blevins’ list of students includes guys like David Akers (Detroit Lions), Adam Vinatieri (Indianapolis Colts) and former Tech kicker Shayne Graham, now with the Cleveland Browns.
Ludwig attended a session with Blevins back in the seventh grade, and Blevins saw his potential then even though Ludwig was more of a soccer player at that point in his life.
“He actually got me started kicking,” Ludwig said. “I worked with him for three or four years, and he helped me a lot. Him being in Abingdon and being so close helped me a lot. He taught me how to kick. We met him at a field in Abingdon, just me and a couple of other guys. He saw me kicking, and he thought I had something. I was like, ‘OK.’ Now I’m here, and this whole experience has been awesome.”
These days, Ludwig periodically goes to Charlottesville, Va., to work with Mike McCabe, a former Illinois State All-American who founded One on One Kicking, which develops kickers. The work is definitely paying off.
Through the first two practices, most of his kickoffs have been to the back of the end zone or out of the end zone. He has caught the eye of Beamer and has a good shot at playing this season as long as he continues to launch kicks to the end zone.
“I believe so,” Ludwig said when asked if he had a chance at playing this season. “The way I’ve trained this whole summer and from last season, my consistency is pretty good.
“The spot is open, and I’m willing to work for it.”
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