Now that college football has been properly introduced to the T, the I, the wishbone, the veer, the wide-tackle-6 and the 4.4, it seems only fitting that the kickers have their day.
Russell Erxleben of Texas, Tony Franklin of Texas A & M and Steve Little of Arkansas aren't candidates for the Heisman Trophy. But they light up the pro scouts' eyes just as if they could run a 4.4-second 40 or hit a receiver in the hands with a pass from 70 yards away.
Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys' director of player personnel and perhaps the most knowledgeable front-office type there is when it comes to kickers, says all three are unquestionably first-round draft choices.
Erxleben and Franklin are juniors, Little a senior.
Erxleben, the best of the three, already has kicked an NCAA record 67-yard field goal this season, plus a 64-yarder, two of 58 and one 57 yards.
Franklin presently is in a slump, but kicked a 65-yarder and a 64-yarder last season and holds the NCAA record for most field goals from more than 50 yards, with 11.
Little tied Erxleben's record against the Longhorns last Saturday with a 67-yarder of his own. He was kicking with a 20-mile-an-hour wind, but he hit on a 61-yarder last year with no help and has made five 70-yarders in practice.
In contrast to the likes of Erxleben, Franklin and Little, the NFL record is 63 yards by Tom Dempsey, and no other pro has kicked one farther than 58 yards.
There are a number of reasons why:
The college ball is inflated with more air than the NFL ball and is, therefore, livlier.
Erxleben, Walker and Little seldom have had to kick off natural grass. Artificial surfaces guarantee a flat, even place to kick from.
College kickers are allowed to kick field goals and extra points off a tee, which insures a greater lift and, most experts say, adds 10 yards to a kick.
Because of the consequences of a missed field good from far out, fewer are tried by the pros.
There is little penatly if a long field goal is missed in college. There is in the pros.
Had Erxleben and Little missed their 67-yarders - the line of scrimmage both times was the 50 - and the ball gone into the end zone, it would have been ruled a touchback and place on the 20.
That isn't so in the NFL. If a field goal is missed there, the ball is returned to the line of scrimmage; in the case of a 67-yard attempt, the ball would go back to midfield. It isn't worth the 30 yards to try a 67-yard field goal in the NFL.
The NCAA rules committee is studying that rule now and there is a good chance it will be changed to conform with the pro rule soon, perhaps as soon as next season.
"The thing that makes Erxleben have the most potential is that he is such a great punter, too," Brandt said.
Erxleben, a native of Seguin, Tex., led the nation with a 46.6-yard punting average last season. He has averaged 46.2 yards on 17 punts this season, but because the Longhorns have been so powerful, they haven't punted enough to qualify Erxleben for national ranking.
"That kid is also an athlete," Brandt said of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Erxleben. "He was a quarterback and if he weren't so valuable as a kicker, he could probably play some at that position."
Erxleben is a conventional, or straight-on, kicker. He kickds with a special square-toed shoe and depends on leg strength to get his distance. His right leg is lightly bigger than his left, but not abnormally so.
He has made nine of 13 field-goal attempts this year and is 31 of 48 in college. His misses this year were from 69, 58, 44 and 33 yards.
Little is a soccer-style kicker. His father worked for a manufacturing company oversees when Little was growing up, so he spent the sixth through the ninth grades in places like Geneva, Switzerland, and Oslo, Norway, learning to kick with the side of his foot.
He played quarterback, safety and did all of the kicking and punting at Shawnee Mission (Kan.) South High School.
"I used to never come out of a game," the 6-foot, 180-pound Little said. "Sometimes my body got tired, but never my legs."
Little is averaging 42.5 yards on 27 punts. He averaged 44, yards last year. He is seven of 12 on field-goal attempts his season and 41 of 71 at Arkansas. His misses this season were from 61, 61, 60, 50 and 39 yards.
His most impressive statistic, however, is that he has kicked off 32 times this season and all but five of those kicks were downed in the end zone or went out of it. Two were run out of the end zone and one was caught at the one-yard line.
Walker kicks barefooted and approaches the ball from a lesser angle than a soccer kicker. He gets less whip from his leg and kicks the ball with the top of his foot rather than with the inside of it.
Because he kicks barefooted and doesn't punt, Walker is considered less valuable than the other tow, "but he's still a No. 1," said Brandt.
Walker, at 5-10, 170, is a former running back. But an injured ankle in high school turned him into a kicker and he developed his own style trying to copy Jan Stenerud of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Stenerud was the first of the soccer-style kickers in professional football.
Brandt, among others, was so impressed by Stenerud that, in 1971, he went to Oslo, Copenhagen, Vienna and other places in Europe looking for soccer-style kickers.
"The soccer style is better simply because you can get more leg into the kick," Brandt said.
That expensive recruiting trip turned up Toni Fritsch, who did well in the NFL but was not another Stenerud.
Brandt, among others, is expecting Erxleben, Walker and Little to hit the NFL with the same impace as did Stenerud.
"We have statistics that show that nine years ago, one out of nine games was decided by a field goal," Brandt said. "This year that is down to one game in three. These guys will win somebody a lot of football games some day soon."