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December 5, 2013

Kristensen Comes Through

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It was bad enough that many of his coaches and teammates had no idea who he was, other than supposedly some player for Virginia Tech.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, days before the Hokies' final home game, against Maryland, joked that his fellow coaches might have picked him up from Walmart. He joined the team in September as a walk-on and wasn't even listed in Virginia Tech's media guide. Coach Frank Beamer knew who he was, but until last week, just called him, 'Michigan.'

Well, Hokies freshman kicker Eric Kristensen is from Michigan, from Ann Arbor, home of the Wolverines. And after he connected on three field goals Saturday in a 16-6 win at Virginia, it's safe to say many Virginia Tech fans know who he is now.

"That little kid, he's very accurate, he just hasn't got much experience," Beamer said. "But he handles things probably as well as you could possibly hope for."

Kristensen could generously be called small and slight. In his first collegiate game, against the Terrapins, he looked as if his helmet was too big for his head.

In September, Kristensen won a walk-on spot on the team after impressing Hokies coaches in a workout. But Virginia Tech already had a number of kickers. There was Michael Branthover, Mitchell Ludwig and Ethan Keyserling, not to mention senior Cody Journell, who kicked three game-winning field goals last season.

"It really started when we had a competition," Kristensen said. "Tuesdays and Wednesdays are our competition days and that's when I got to kick in front of coach. I was kicking well that week, I continued to and then it came to Tuesday before a game and I just started kicking really well again and I earned the spot."

Journell had his struggles this season, missing four field goals and an extra point against East Carolina, then getting suspended for the Marshall game due to a violation of team rules. Keyserling struggled in the rain, missing three field goals in Journell's place.

Meanwhile, Kristensen quietly was kicking with accuracy and efficiency during the Hokies' practices.

"He's out there kicking and Bruce Garnes and I go down there about the first three periods and even when we had Cody, I said, 'This kid from Michigan, his flight's good, he's consistent,'" Beamer said. "You kinda look at him and you say, 'What the heck is this? I'm gonna send YOU out there to win this thing for me?' He answered the bell. I'm proud of him. He's a great kid and he has a very accurate, consistent swing. That's really important."

On Nov. 13, Journell had another violation of team rules and was dismissed. Immediately, Beamer turned to his little walk-on kicker that almost no one knew about. It would be Kristensen kicking field goals from the 25 yard-line and in and Branthover outside of that.

Kristensen struggled in his first game, against Maryland. He missed wide left on a 34-yard attempt that was partially tipped, before connecting on a 31-yard field goal in overtime.

"(That) game was more of a jitters thing," Kristensen said. "It was my first game and stuff. This game, I felt more confident in my abilities."

On Saturday, Kristensen looked more at ease, even if a few of his kicks had just enough distance to clear the cross bar. Kristensen was good on field goals of 22, 30 and 38 yards in Virginia Tech's win.

"The stadium, I felt really comfortable in it," he said. "And all the fans that we had here and everything, it felt really good."

Suddenly, few fans and followers of the Hokies are mistaking him for some college student who looks like he should be playing college football on his Xbox, not playing football on the field.

"My friends do a good job of recognizing me when we go out," Kristensen said. "They like yell, 'This is the kicker' and stuff. But I'm getting more used to it and people recognize me now."

Ok, so Kristensen isn't a household name yet, but he's certainly recognized more when he goes to Walmart.



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