Penn State’s season has been a bit of a bumpy ride thus far, and that’s almost what you can say about Jake Pinegar’s career as a Nittany Lion.
Pinegar came into the program as Penn State’s starting kicker back in 2018, making 13 starts as a true freshman after Tyler Davis graduated. His freshman year was a solid one, as he led the Big Ten in total points with 101 and made 16-of-24 field goals.
Then, Jordan Stout came along in 2019. In addition to taking over the punting duties, Stout also was taking field goals from 50 yards and over, leaving Pinegar for just short-range situations. Still, he did the job he was asked, nailing 11-of-12 field goals, and doing the same in 2020 while making 9-of-13.
Ultimately, he lost his job to Stout last season. After sitting almost all of that last campaign on the bench and having a rocky start to the season, Pinegar has hit his stride with the Nittany Lions and has become quite the reliable kicker.
So far this season, the Ankeny, Iowa native has hit 11-of-13 field goals, hitting 50-yarders in Saturday’s shutout win over Maryland and last week’s win over Indiana. He has also made 41-of-43 PATs and hasn’t missed a field goal or PAT attempt since Penn State’s win over Central Michigan.
Pinegar now looks back at getting benched for Stout and thinks it only helped him develop as a kicker.
“It allowed me to relax and just get better, go to work, and improve,” he said in his postgame media availability.
Sticking it out during that time isn’t easy to do, especially in today’s college football environment. Pinegar could have picked a school to transfer to and get a starting job, but he stayed at Penn State and saw through the tough times. James Franklin gave him high marks for that after Saturday’s win.
“I’m so happy for him,” Franklin said in his postgame media availability. “[He’s] playing his tail off right now. You’re talking about a guy who was the starter, lost his starting job, and stuck it out to stay here and become the starter again. He’s playing really well right now.”
As I mentioned earlier, Pinegar could have easily left Penn State and found a starting job elsewhere. That possibility makes this season feel extra rewarding for the placekicker.
“Whenever you invest a lot in something and it pays out the way that you’d hoped it paid out, it feels good,” he said. “I made a big investment to come back, stay here, and finish things the right way. Right now, it’s looking like that, so I’m really happy about it.”
Pinegar is in a groove, making each of his last eight field goal attempts, which includes two from 50 yards. He attributes a lot of that to the confidence he’s gained this season, mentioning that it’s crucial to be confident as a kicker and visualize success. It definitely helps when your head coach trusts you to make a 50-yard field goal in less-than-ideal conditions.
“I’m very happy,” he said when asked about Franklin trusting him in those tough scenarios. “Anytime you get the opportunity to go out there and hit a long one, it’s exciting. You embrace it.”
Still, the 6’2″, 199-pound kicker isn’t relying on making 50-yard field goals every game to build his confidence and keep his rhythm. Pinegar has done that by simply concentrating on one kick at a time.
“I don’t really go out there and say this is a 50-yarder. You take it each kick at a time,” he said. “I try to have the same approach mentally, the same approach physically. If I make a kick, I make it. If I miss it, I miss it. It’s just how it goes. So, I’m just trying to focus and do the same thing each and every kick.”
Through his early struggles, Pinegar didn’t focus too much on the outside noise. From “Jake has no leg,” to, “He has no aim,” he has heard it all.
“I’ve heard it a long time,” Pinegar said. “But, there’s noise going on no matter what. As a player and as a team, you gotta tune that stuff out and focus on your process.”
It’s not easy. People hear it…Even when you’re kicking good it’s the same thing. People are patting on your back when you’re doing good and then stabbing your back when you’re not doing good. I think the most important thing for a player like me is just to tune all that stuff out, focus on yourself, and focus on your process.”