UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tyler Davis hadn't played in a full football game until Oct. 3, 2015.
And yet, he seems to have the golden cleat.
This redshirt junior kicker had been a soccer player most of his life, playing his freshman year at Division I Bradley in his native Illinois. Somehow this 5-foot-11, 180-pounder made his way from the pitch to the field to aim between a different set of goalposts.And the transition, while rapid, wasn't tumultuous in the slightest — Davis is a perfect 24-for-24 in field goals and extra points combined to start his career, which is the best for Penn State since at least 1970.
"I think I've kind of proven myself in practice and now in games," Davis said. "So it's definitely huge to have Coach [James] Franklin and the rest of the team be confident in me now."
Davis had a friend who had kicked at Oregon who he would practice with and also attended some kicking camps. So when he decided to transfer from Bradley, he set his sights on either continuing his soccer career somewhere else or starting anew in football. Football quickly became his only choice because Bradley did not release him to play soccer. So Davis sent tapes of practice or competitions at those camps and eventually earned a preferred walk-on spot at Penn State from Franklin and special teams coordinator Charles Huff.
"Soccer definitely was my first love, and I still like to mess around with a ball when I can," Davis said. "It was pretty tough at first, especially knowing that I didn't even have the option of playing without my release. But I think that kind of motivated me. ... I think that helped me become a better kicker by just focusing all on kicking."
Davis said the biggest difference between soccer and football is simple: the amount of kicks.
"In my position, it's definitely more black and white," Davis said. "You either make it or that's it. And in soccer, if you make a mistake, you can try your hardest to get one back or you can make up for a mistake."
Franklin said Davis and Australian punter Daniel Pasquariello had to learn about American football when they first joined the program. Franklin said most of the learning curve was about "situational football," and he shows a lot of film examples, such as the Western Michigan-Northwestern game from this past weekend, to try and learn from others' mistakes.
"Obviously, being a kicker, that helps, but there are some things, things that you might take for granted about that game that you're trying to explain and the importance of it that they don't really get," Franklin said. "[Davis has] handled it really well. Fortunately for him, his job, he doesn't need to necessarily understand four-minute offense or two-minute offense or things like that. It helps him. But he needs to kick the ball through the uprights consistently."
Redshirt sophomore Joey Julius was the main kicker at the start of the 2015 season until Davis started to share the duties with him. This season so far, Davis handles field goals and extra points while Julius manages kickoffs.
"Last year, not starting right away was kind of a blessing in disguise, although I wanted to start," Davis said. "Just getting the feel of how a game works and seeing how a game works and then coming in later in the season, I felt more comfortable with it. So I think that has helped me a lot."
Julius and Davis were honorable mentions for the Penn State coaching staff's players of the week after a 33-13 win Saturday against Kent State that saw Davis go 2-for-2 on field goals (29 and 28 yards) and 3-for-3 on extra points. Davis said the farthest he has kicked with a live snap and hold was 55 yards in preseason camp. With sticks, he has made a 60-yard field goal.
Davis will put his perfect record to the test at noon Saturday against Pitt when he takes to Heinz Field — a stadium where kicks have gone wonky from wind blowing through the open end of the field. But Davis said he will just make sure he uses pregame warmups to adjust.
"I have heard that Heinz field is a pretty hard place to kick," Davis said. "But I'm also from Chicago where it's super windy. So every summer I practice in Chicago with winds, and I'm sure it's similar."
This article was written by Megan Ryan from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.