August 23, 2007

Tiffin puts past behind

Leigh Tiffin has seen this movie before.

But this time he's hoping for a different ending.

The Alabama kicker found himself thrust into a starting role as a freshman to begin the 2006 season, and played in the first four games of the season for the Crimson Tide. The reason? Incumbent starter Jamie Christensen had a groin strain that bothered him for much of fall camp. Tiffin kicked well until a Week Four visit to Fayetteville, Ark., where he missed three field goals and a point-after try in a 24-23 overtime loss. After that, Christensen returned to his starting role and Tiffin was stuck on the sideline with a lasting memory of the worst kind.

Now, the son of former Alabama standout kicker Van Tiffin is handling kicking duties in practice while Christensen nurses a quadriceps strain. And while there is no way of knowing if Christensen will return to health in time to claim the job and kick against Western Carolina, the similarity of Tiffin's opportunities are unmistakable.

"I hate that he got hurt," Tiffin said. " I wouldn't wish it on anybody."

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has said Christensen's injury is not serious and has left the veteran kicker "day to day." The same day-to-day prognosis stretched into week-to-week for Christensen last year, however, and Tiffin is approaching the season as if he'll be needed immediately.

"In my mind, I'm going to approach it as I am the starter, then that way I'll be prepared no matter what happens," Tiffin said.

Tiffin's performance in Arkansas last year belies his stat total for the year. Two misses inside of 40 yards and a missed PAT in overtime conspired to obscure fact that he converted 7 of 9 field goals in other games, a percentage of 77.7. Even with the Arkansas game included, his 8-of-13 season (61.5 percent) would have been welcome at several schools in the Southeastern Conference.

"It was a pretty rough experience, but a lot of kickers experience something like that in their career at some point," Tiffin said. "That's what happened to me … It's one thing to miss a field goal, but a lot of times guys start worrying about it too much and they turn one mistake into two."

Teammates are quick with support for Tiffin.

"It was this guy's first opportunity," said wide receiver Keith Brown. "…He was working toward what his goal was, and whatever happened, happened. … I think he's going to be a pretty good kicker for us this year."

Renewed confidence, however, can't be just handed over from supportive teammates. It must be built from the inside, and a clean slate for Tiffin was his own mental hurdle. And when Alabama changed coaches over the winter, he got a fresh start from the new staff as well.

"Leigh Tiffin has done a really good job this entire camp," Saban said following the second scrimmage of camp. "We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in him."

If fall camp is any indication, Tiffin's head is back where it needs to be. He has converted 7 of 9 field-goal tries over two scrimmages, including a 51-yarder in the Crimson Tide's first. He missed one from 57 yards - the same distance of his father's school record - that was long enough but wide right in the second scrimmage.

"I'm ready," Tiffin said.

Tiffin by the numbers
Camp '077977.751

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