INDIANAPOLIS — Sprinkled in among the crop of talented placekickers and punters from Southern schools that dominate the 2012 NFL draft class is a proud crew of Big Ten kickers, all of whom know that they can play through rain and snow, as well as wind and hail.
Illinois PK Derek Dimke, who struggled to earn field-goal opportunities during his senior season as a result of a poor Fighting Illini offense and some poor weather, said that he has benefited tremendously from his Big Ten experience.
"All of the kickers (at the NFL Scouting Combine) are execeptional kickers, no doubt that they can all play at the next level, but I feel like I've been very fortunate to be able to play in adverse conditions," Dimke said. "Snow, rain, wind, everything, I've experienced it all in the Big Ten — that is a little bit of an advantage."
Dimke said that the windy weather of the Midwest would wreak occasional havoc on his kickoffs, but added that it was a price that he was willing to pay.
The weather also might have played a role in preventing Dimke from attempting longer kicks. Though he said he could comfortably send 54 and 55 yard field goals through the uprights in practice, his longest attempt in 2011 was a 49-yarder. He made that kick and converted 2-of-3 attempts from 40 to 49 yards out. As for the kicks of 50-plus yards, he simply never got the opportunity.
"We didn't attempt a lot of long field goals because of the wind and weather conditions in the Midwest," Dimke said.
Perhaps as a result of the weather, Big Ten kickers don't always post the best statistics. Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 42.2 yards per punt his senior season, a much lower number than fellow Combine punters like Florida State's Shawn Powell (nation's best 47.0) or Georgia's Drew Butler and Cal's Bryan Anger (both at 44.2). Dimke made just 10 field goals (in 12 attempts) his senior year, a pittance compared to the lofty numbers of some of his competitors.
Overall, however, the weather conditions were a positive, according to Nortman, a weather-beaten veteran of the Big Ten.
"Absolutely. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I don't know anything but the cold weather. The idea of warm weather all year just sounds unbelievable to me, so yeah I've done it," Nortman said. "I've seen just about every situation weatherwise that I think I could, I could be wrong of course, but just in general, cold weather, wind, rain, none of it really concerns me, I'm so used to it by now."
Not like the Southern kickers are all that concerned about their lack of experience in colder climates. Lou Groza Award winner Randy Bullock, who has spent practically his entire life in Texas, said that he had to deal with plenty of difficult days in College Station.
"I really don't think that will be a problem," Bullock said. "Playing in the Big 12 South, we still had some cold games, maybe not as cold as some of the teams up in the Big Ten or somewhere like that, but we played in Iowa when it was pretty chilly, Kansas when it was real windy and cold. Kansas State. I've been up there."
But if Bullock claims to have experienced rough conditions, Nortman might object. The Badgers' punter recalled a particularly rough day at Michigan State, when the winds were swirling at roughly 20 to 30 mph, and the rain put additional strain on the specialists. He mentioned a few other games, in which the temperatures dropped into the 20s, but added that his day in East Lansing was by far the worst weather he had ever dealt with.
As Nortman said, once you've spent your whole life kicking field goals in Wisconsin, everything else seems like paradise in comparison.
"There's nothing worse than a stiff wind in your face with the rain," Nortman said. "Anything compared to that is paradise, really."