NEW ORLEANS — Justin Myer’s eyes were lost in the headlights, his face emotionless. And this was while answering questions in an empty stadium.
He recalled the last high-pressure kick he made. It was a 47-yarder in his senior year of high school, his career-long field goal. But even that came early in the game.
Myers’s next will be much tougher.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer announced minutes later that the senior walk-on kicker would be the starting kicker in the Sugar Bowl.
Beamer searched his play sheet for evidence why Myer will be mentally ready for the Sugar Bowl, which now less than five days away. He pointed out that he will put the spotlight on Myer in practice, insisting that he would stop everyone and make Myer kick with the whole team watching.
The left corner of Beamer’s sheet was stained by coffee he spilled that morning. Perhaps the stain was related to the news he received that morning: Tyler Weiss, his backup-turned-starting kicker, broke curfew. His hand forced, Beamer sent Weiss home.
“We had curfew,” Beamer said. “We talked about it a lot. (Weiss) didn’t make it and we’re going to send him home. That’s kind of about it.”
When the Hokies arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday, Beamer spent an hour discussing what not to do, emphasizing they all stay focused. Weiss didn’t.
“Well, we do mean business,” Beamer said regarding Weiss’s departure. “And we talked a lot about how it was important we played well in this ball game.”
Virginia Tech’s usual starter, Cody Journell, who made 14 of his 17 field goal attempts this season, was already out. Arrested last week on breaking-and-entering charges, he’s been suspended indefinitely. Beamer declined to comment on Journell’s future, delaying it until the situation plays out.
“Cody Journell’s a good kid; Tyler Weiss is a good kid,” Beamer said. “They just made some bad decisions.”
So Myer was the one to answer questions Thursday, learning how to handle the spotlight on the fly. After walking on his freshman year, he earned kickoff duties, which he has fulfilled for four years. Beamer didn’t let Myer try field goals until this season, and only then as a long-distance specialist.
He missed his only two attempts, from 53 and 57 yards.
Still, Beamer had no choice: “My plan is Justin Myer will be our guy,” he said.
Added Myer: “I mean, I am excited. I feel bad for the guys (Weiss and Journell). I’m friends with them. They’re nice guys. I hate seeing this, but I mean hopefully I can do well and help the team.”
For the first time all season, Myer will get an extensive look in practice, where he has kicked all year, though mostly on longer kicks.
It was his understanding that there would be a competition between himself and the equally unheralded backups, freshman Michael Branthover and redshirt freshman Conor Goulding. Though, Beamer said Myer has “as strong of a leg as I’ve ever seen,” and neither of the other two have attempted a field goal in a game.
Physically, Myer seems capable. But between the ears he seems questionable.
“I never had that much of a pressure kick through my career,” he said. “(Now) you’ve got more pressure. There’s points on the line with this.”
At least, he said, kicking in the Superdome provides the “perfect” conditions, and he feels he has the power to “get it there” for kicks of up to 55 yards. Making it is another story.
On kickoffs, Myer can focus on a stationary target, launching the ball when he’s good and ready. On field goals, he noted, he’s at the mercy of the hold and only has so much time to look at the ball.
Beamer sounded confident in Myer and the two freshmen, trying to quell skeptics by arguing he’s watched them closer than anyone all season.
“The problem is they’ve just never kicked with — however many this place holds — people shouting at them,” he said.
Grooming a kicker in a week is difficult, though. Ultimately, the decision to send Weiss home could handicap Beamer’s offense, forcing him to go for fourth downs that usually would end in field goals.
“Yeah,” Beamer said, pausing briefly, while answering a question if he’d think about avoiding field goals. “Yeah, well, I think we’ll get to the game and see what the situation is.”
In this case, principle won.
“You’ve got to get it in-between (business trip and reward),” Beamer said of the Sugar Bowl. “Because you do want it to be a reward.
“But what happens in the big picture, it’s important to win these bowl games. Your whole year — everything going forward — is better when you’re coming off a good performance in your bowl game.”
Following a streak of bad luck — two unfortunate mistakes by players at the same position — Beamer will be counting on such a performance from his third-string kicker.