DECATUR — If you've ever witnessed a Millikin football practice about to start, you will see some of Decatur's most aspiring kickers testing out their legs, be they receivers, running backs or linemen.
"It all started when (Millikin punter) Wyatt (Fox) and I go out there and warm up our legs," Big Blue kicker Ben Spelman said. "And then everyone else thinks they can do it ... until it comes to actually doing it."
Actually doing it, that has become Spelman's specialty.
Named the CCIW's Special Teams Player of the Week last week for a nearly perfect performance against Carroll University that included 8-for-8 on point-after-touchdown attempts and racking up 482 kickoff yards and three touchbacks, Spelman is making waves in his first year playing "American football."
Spelman, who is from Sligo, Ireland, gave football a try this year after playing three years on the Big Blue men's soccer team.
"I've always liked American football and when I got the opportunity to come here and play soccer, it was still always sort of in the back of my mind that I wanted to try it eventually," he said. "I would have been kicking myself if I went home and didn't take the chance to do it."
Millikin coach Dan Gritti could not be happier that Spelman got in touch with him about trying out for the team.
"Ben knew our kicker was graduating last year so he talked to me in the spring about coming out," he said. "We sort of worked out the details and got him some instruction early and he's been a godsend for us."
Spelman has been near perfect on point-afters, hitting 35 of 36 attempts.
"He has been spot on with the extra points and some big kickoffs through the back of the end zone," Gritti said. "I think he is still adjusting to the American game but you are certainly seeing his natural ability shine through and I am feeling more and more confident with him back there."
Although Spelman's only had two field goal attempts this season, he has made the most of them by kicking what would prove to be the game-winner in a 28-25 comeback victory against Augustana.
"He won the Augustana game for us and he has been a nice weapon to have," Gritti said.
Spelman would love a couple more kicks at the uprights but the high-powered Millikin offense just won't give him the opportunity.
"I would like to kick a few more field goals but you've seen the scoreboard each week and how good we are on offense," he said. "It is nice to get in the game but I would much rather we win."
Spelman can also attest to the pressure a field goal kicker feels when called upon.
"When you are out on the soccer field, there's people watching you obviously but when you are out there and you are the kicker, you are the center of attention in front of everyone," he said. "My first field goal that I actually missed, I was more nervous for that than I was for actually kicking what turned out to be the game-winner against Augustana."
Spelman could be called upon again Saturday as Millikin travels to play Carthage (1-5, 1-3). Although the Red Men have only recorded one win this season, they feature the CCIW's top pass defense.
"Their defense's ability to not just turn the ball over but turn the ball over and score is pretty remarkable," Gritti said. "We've got to be particularly aware of how good they are on defense and not allow them to get easy points."
Carthage's offense also features senior receiver James Cobbs who Gritti feels could test the defense like no other receiver this season.
"He's probably the best receiver that we will play this year. He's been remarkable, he breaks tackles and makes people miss and they involve him in the run game with speed sweeps," Gritti said. "He's a definite stud who we are spending a lot of time paying attention to."