TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was early summer and Leigh Tiffin was in limbo.
His dream was in danger.
Even as preseason magazines picked him as a potential All-American, Tiffin was wondering if he’d ever kick in a Crimson Tide uniform again.
The senior from Muscle Shoals was laid up with a cut on his kicking foot suffered when a group of men jumped him outside a Tuscaloosa bar May 6.
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All he could do was wait for the wound to heal while hoping it wouldn’t cut his career short.
His patience had to last into July before that injured foot met a football and put his mind at rest.
“I was a little bit worried,” said Tiffin who was named to the Lou Groza Award watch-list Thursday for the second year in a row. “I didn’t know if it was going to heal up right. I gave it some time, six or eight weeks later it was fine.
“I really didn’t start kicking until about a month ago. So I let my leg rest a lot and I think in the long run it will pay off later in the season.”
Now that the anxiety has passed, Tiffin said he is having the best preseason practice season of his Alabama career.
Conditioning should not be a problem for the senior who first came to Tuscaloosa standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds and known best as the son of former Tide kicker Van Tiffin.
Now he has gained notoriety for his increased size. Listed at 6-2 and weighing 212 pounds, Tiffin has gained 13 pounds on his 2008 roster listing by spending a little extra time in the weight room.
He maxed out at 405 pounds on the bench press this summer in weight training that had a purpose greater than looks.
“You know, I wouldn’t mind being the skinny kicker,” he said. “That’s not really the point. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to kick off if I didn’t get a little bigger. You have to kick it so far now so that’s what drove me to work out.”
At Sunday’s media day, Alabama coach Nick Saban drew laughs when he described place-kickers and punters as “assassins.”
“They have to do one thing, one time and make it work,” Saban said. “They don’t need the training. They just have to know when to sit in the window and know when to take the shot.”
Tiffin doesn’t disagree with his coach’s assessment while he still treats his duties with extra care. In 2008, he was 20-for-29 on field goal attempts and missed just one of 47 extra-point kicks to put his career success rate at 97.9 percent (94-of-96).
Departing from the kicker stereotype, the three-year starter said the mental side of the game is a little overrated.
Every time the Tide offense crosses the 50 yard-line, Tiffin will boot a few practice kicks into the net on the sideline. He prepares to kick a 55-yarder at any minute while making anything shorter a little easier.
When he’s called into action, the on-field routine never changes.
“I line it up and see the ball down the middle of the up-rights,” Tiffin said. “I take my walk over and I look up again and see where I want it to go. I take a deep breath and I tell (holder) P.J. (Fitzgerald) I’m ready. Once I tell him I’m ready, I don’t take my eye off the spot where the ball is going to be and I try to watch my foot hit the ball.”
The rising popularity of the last-second field-goal freezing time out has not effected Tiffin’s routine.
He retreats to the sideline when the opposition starts with the head games because the field “is not my comfort zone.”