Team Kick: Hinkebein, Howell and Randolph
By Cayce Troxel, Virginia Athletics Media Relations
The University of Virginia is known for its expansive-and diverse-fraternity system. There is no shortage of Zetas, Sigmas and Deltas and UVa also boasts fraternities for honor students, various multicultural groups, engineers, commerce students, chemistry majors-even one devoted simply to honor.
And then there is UVa’s smallest-and perhaps most unique-fraternity: Team Kick.
“It’s something only we can say we have,” said Virginia placekicker Robert Randolph. “We all know what it’s like being a kicker; we know each other’s mentality. We can build each other up and help each other out. It’s good to have that network of people to talk to.”
While Randolph is one of the three current members of Team Kick, the brotherhood was first chartered in 2002 by then-Cavalier kickers Connor Hughes and Kurt Smith. Although the founders have since left Virginia to play at the professional level, the fraternity has lived on now nearly a decade after its founding.
For the past four years, it has been Randolph, along with fellow senior kickers, punter Jimmy Howell and kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, who have made up the heart of the club.
“It’s been great because we know how each other ticks,” said Howell. “When I see Rob’s kick going a certain way, I can coach him. It’s the same thing with Hink. We support each other, but we can also get on each other if we think one of us needs to pick it up. We’re all there to be good friends as well as good teammates.”
Just like any fraternity, the Cavalier kicking trio arrived at Team Kick from a variety of circumstances. In the case of all three though, it was not theywho found kicking but rather kicking that found them.
With Hinkebein, for instance, the decision was virtually made for him.
“I wanted to play football in middle school, but my mom was like ‘No, you’re too small. The only way you can play is if you kick,'” Hinkebein said. “When I got to high school, my mom said, ‘I think you should keep pursuing this kicking thing.’ I was like, ‘All right. Why not?’ It just kind of carried on from there.”
Although size was never a problem for Howell-now standing 6-6 he is the tallest punter in the country-kicking was not really something he thought up on his own accord either. The Florence, S.C. native was just tossing a football around after class one day during his freshman year of high school when the school’s football coach approached him and commented on his throwing.
“He told me, ‘It’s a little too late for quarterback, but why don’t you tryout at another position?'” Howell said. “He knew I played soccer for fun, so he was like, ‘We need a punter and a kicker.'”
Randolph had a similar experience. While the Cavalier senior comes from the more typical kicking background of the three, having played soccer year-round until his sophomore year of high school, even he had to be coaxed into the niche role originally.
“The high school football coach came to a soccer game my sophomore year and called me down to his office after,” Randolph said. “He just asked me if I wanted to kick in the spring. He brought me out to the field and lined me up on the extra-point line. I’d kicked a football before just messing around, and I made it. I guess it was the start of a new beginning, a new chapter in my life.”
Having made the commitment to kick, the trio took the first official step toward eventually pledging Team Kick by attending various kicker-specific camps along the East Coast.
“Everybody thinks it’s funny that there are camps out there to learn how to kick, but there are camps to learn how to do just about anything,” Hinkebein said. “If you kick at a college camp, the coaches get to evaluate you first hand and see what you’re like under pressure and in the stadium.”
With that accomplished, the next phase of the Team Kick rush process is a little trickier. Just as fraternities can only induct a select number of new pledges each year depending on the number of current brothers graduating, Team Kick’s membership is capped as well. While Hinkebein arrived in 2007-a year earlier than the others-and redshirted his first season at Virginia, Howell and Randolph benefited from the graduation of UVa kicker Chris Gould the following year.
Howell was an early pledgee; Randolph, on the other hand, was a late addition having not even played footballuntil the spring of his sophomore year of high school.
“I was pretty set on going to Georgetown to play, but one day after school I got a call from Virginia and they said they had a walk-on spot,” Randolph said. “I had by 6 p.m. that night to decide. I went home, talked to my parents and my older brother, and made the decision.”
In pledging Team Kick, Randolph, along with Howell and Hinkebein, joined an elite group-one very different from other Cavalier position players. With a new brotherhood, though, comes a new level of responsibility.
“As a kicker, all eyes are on you,” Hinkebein said. “You control how the field flips. If you have a bad punt, they’re going to point their finger and say that’s why the other team got good field position. Or if you have a bad kickoff, they’re going to point the finger at that.”
“We get one to eight shots as a punter,” Howell added. “A kicker could get one field goal-it could be a game-winner or it could be at the very beginning of the game. It’s our job to go out there for that one play and be our best. Whereas offensive and defensive players-yes, they’re trying to do well on that one play-but they still have 50, 60, 70 plays in all. We can count on our fingers how many plays we get.”
With such an emphasis on so few plays, kicking is obviously a pressure-packed task. A kicker’s approach to the game-and by extension, Team Kick’s mentality-needs to be more mental than physical, as opposed to most football positions. The trio’s practice style, therefore, differs slightly from that of other Virginia players.
“If you ask other guys, they’re going to say we just stand around,” Hinkebein said.
In reality though, Team Kick is a little more active than that. After performing stretches with the team, the three typically go off to their own separate practice field to loosen up further. There, they take as many practice kicks as necessary to feel comfortable. Depending on the day, that number could be anywhere between zero and one hundred. The kickers then wait for their turn on the primary practice field, where they appear during one of the team’s periods.
“Unlike other guys who get looked at on every play-300 times-in practice, we only have five or six plays that are going to get evaluated,” Hinkebein said. “We really hone in on our specifics on the other practice field.”
“We don’t necessarily have the meeting times and the really strict practices that the other guys have, but we’re still constantly going through the different schemes of the game-where the ball is, what kind of kick we’re going to need,” Howell said.
As is the case with some of Virginia’s secret societies, non-Team Kick members are somewhat baffled by the club’s inner-workings.
“They are a little different,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “All I can do is encourage. All I can do is try to keep a guy up and open up the possibilities for getting his mind right.”
While Team Kick’s proceedings might be a mystery to some, one thing is certain: the current trio has been one of the most successful in Virginia history. That being said though, results have always come secondary to the brothers of this fraternity. For them, kicking has become something more than a sport. It has become a way of life.
“We kick all the time,” Hinkebein said. “It’s something you have to enjoy. I’ve found through the years that if I go a couple of weeks without kicking during the offseason, I kind of get itchy. I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, I need to go hit a ball.’ It’s something thathas become such a big part of my life. If I don’t do it, I kind of feel like I’m missing an aspect of my life.”
Spoken like a true fraternity brother.