Penn State's stocky 'Big Toe' Julius not your average placekicker
As Joey Julius lined up a field goal attempt on Wednesday, some players on the Penn State football team called out "Let's go Toe!"
It was time for "The Big Toe" to deliver another kick between the uprights.
"I've heard the whole 'Big Toe' thing going on," Julius said at Penn State's media day last week. "That's something that our team has definitely latched onto. Nobody even calls me by my real name anymore."
The battle to be the Nittany Lions' kicker and punter are among the top mysteries as the season approaches.
The season opener is less than three weeks away, when Penn State visits Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 5.
Leading that place-kicker battle is "The Big Toe", who has definitely earned his nickname.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 261 pounds, the Lower Dauphin High School graduate almost looks more like an offensive guard than the prototypical kicker. He even gained 17 pounds from his listed weight for the Blue-White Game in April.
But the stocky Julius knows how to use that size, and some of his kicks at an open practice delivered a reverberating thud on the wall of the Lasch Building after splitting the uprights.
Julius, Davis battling for job: Julius has been dueling Tyler Davis for the top kicker job. Both are redshirt freshmen, and Davis is built more like a typical kicker at 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds. Also trying to stick a foot into the competition is freshman and Philipsburg-Osceola graduate Nick Boumerhi.
The trio all took part in a kicking competition before the Blue-White Game kicked off, essentially ending in a draw between Julius and Davis. It gave them a chance to take some kicks in front of nearly 70,000 people.
"It was a lot of fun," Julius said. "It was fun to actually get to kick in front of a crowd. I haven't done that since high school."
Despite the competition, Julius said he and Davis remain best friends, and they are helping each other.
"We had conversations about this," Julius said. "If the best man wins, the best man plays. We think about Penn State. It's not about us."
Who wins the battle will be determined by a number of factors.
The kickers have been taking attempts at the end of practice, and the results are charted, not only with makes and misses but also in speed from snap to connection with the ball. The coaches also add plenty of pressure with air horns blaring in their ears, making the footballs wet and forcing the whole team run "gassers" if the kickers miss.
"The issue is the consistency," head coach James Franklin said at media day. "They've got to be able to show that they can do it day in and day out, practice in and practice out, play in and play out."
Franklin also said he was open to having the field goal and kickoff jobs separated if necessary. The work with kickoffs also is being charted, especially with accuracy for the placement of kicks.
Punting job: The punting duties also are an open competition. Sophomores Chris Gulla and Dan Pasquariello shared the duties last season, with each averaging the same 37.3 yards per punt. Gulla hit his numbers on 28 attempts, while Pasquariello took 47 kicks last fall.
The problem for both was consistency, and field position changes were an issue throughout the 2014 season.
"When you get into consistency and being able to do the task," special teams coordinator Charles Huff said, "consistency and helping the team move forward, that's what we're going to be looking for all camp."
Gulla, who was recruited as a possible place kicker and favored that in high school, gave it a try in the spring but was moved back to punting duties after spring practices ended.
"I wanted to have my shot at the field-goal-kicking position," Gulla said. "About halfway through I really loved that. I feel like it was a great break, mentally, from punting."
Gulla said he brings some of the mentality of place kicking to punting, and it helps.
"It's a different mentality — you make it or you miss it," Gulla said. "I try to take that mentality in place-kicking over to the way I punt."
Soccer mentality: Julius brings a bit of a soccer mentality to his game.
Some might be surprised to learn he was a high-scoring forward. He played for the Philadelphia Union Academy, associated with the MLS team, and turned down a scholarship offer from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville to give football at Penn State a try. He even played on the same club team as Connor Maloney, the Nittany Lion men's team's top scorer last year, and Julius claims he outscored Maloney.
"I'm in football mode now," Julius said. "I was never a small kid, I was never a super skinny kid, I was always just a hard worker. I was agile, but being a kicker right now is not about being the quickest. It's about hitting the ball straight, getting down field and making some tackles if I have to."
He's focused on winning the kicking battle, much like their counterparts at punter.
It's something that may not be settled for quite some time.
"It makes it fun," Gulla said. "Every position battle has some really good competition. We've been competing every day since I got here. It's nothing new, just trying to be better than the guy next to you that day."