Lloyd relishing D-1 kicking at Eastern Kentucky
WINCHESTER — Andrew Lloyd is finally living the Division I football dream.
More than four years after Lloyd appeared set to spend his collegiate years kicking for Virginia Tech, the 2009 James Wood graduate has made his mark this year kicking for the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky University.
Eastern Kentucky — an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision school — is located in Richmond, Ky., and competes in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“It’s always been the goal to get to this level,” said Lloyd in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m enjoying it.”
The feeling has been mutual for Colonels head coach Dean Hood, who also serves as EKU’s special teams coordinator.
Lloyd has made 6 of 8 field goals this year, with a long of 44 yards. The Colonels made just 8 of 17 field goals in 2012.
On kickoffs Lloyd has had 12 touchbacks on his 42 kicks, with an average of 61 yards per kickoff. Over the previous two years combined, Eastern Kentucky managed a total of just eight touchbacks, and the Colonels averaged just 55.6 yards per kickoff.
“We’ve had some problems with our kicking game the last few years, so it was big for us to have him come in and kick like he has,” said Hood, whose Colonels (6-5, 4-3 Ohio Valley) close out their season on the road in a 1 p.m. contest today at Murray State.
It’s been a well-traveled road for Lloyd to get to Eastern Kentucky.
Following a senior year in 2008 that saw him earn all-state honors at James Wood, Lloyd committed to Virginia Tech as a preferred walk-on in January of 2009.
But Tech asked him to take a greyshirt — which meant waiting until the spring semester of 2010 to enroll and therefore preserve a year of eligibility — partly so Lloyd could improve his academic credentials.
Though he did well in two of his classes, Lloyd wasn’t able to get his math grade high enough at LFCC to enroll at Tech, so he enrolled at Shenandoah University in the spring of 2010.
Lloyd went on to have a strong two-year career with the Hornets, making 10 of 15 career field goals (including a school-record 48-yarder), converting a school-record 63 extra points on 67 attempts, and averaging 57.5 yards on kickoffs.
But Lloyd made it clear when he arrived at SU that he wanted to play for a Division I school. Given Lloyd’s connections, Eastern Kentucky was a perfect fit.
Lloyd began working with former SU kicking coach Fred Pinciaro — whose pupils over the years include New York Giants place kicker Josh Brown and former NFL kickers Shayne Graham and Neil Rackers — when he was a sophomore in high school.
Pinciaro talked with EKU linebackers coach Garry Fisher — SU’s defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007 — about having Lloyd possibly play for the Colonels. After taking a recruiting trip after the fall semester, Lloyd enrolled at EKU in the spring of 2012 for another chance at Division I football as a walk-on.
Adding to Eastern Kentucky’s appeal was its criminal justice program, which ranks among the best in the country.
“I majored in criminal justice at SU and really got into it, so I was excited when I found out what they had here,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd had to sit out the 2012 season because of NCAA transfer rules, but Hood said he couldn’t have been more impressed with Lloyd’s daily demeanor even though there would be no playing time as a reward for his effort.
“He went out and worked hard every single day while he waited to be eligible,” Hood said. “That’s not easy, but he did a great job.”
Lloyd said it wasn’t easy having to bide his time, but he feels he used that time to make himself a better kicker than when he first arrived at EKU.
“I made myself physically stronger, and I got mentally stronger through all the reps I was taking,” Lloyd said.
Still, Lloyd was guaranteed nothing this season.
Senior Luke Pray had handled most of the place-kicking and kickoffs for the Colonels each of the last two years, and the two players pushed each other throughout the spring and preseason camp.
Lloyd said it was a healthy battle in which both players made each other better. But when the two players woke up on Aug. 29 for the season opener against Robert Morris at EKU, Hood still hadn’t let it be known who the team’s kicker would be.
“Coach made it a surprise,” Lloyd said. “Just before the opening kickoff he told me to go out there and kick it.”
Lloyd’s kickoff went a strong 59 yards, and his day only got better.
“From that point on, it was a dream,” Hood was quoted as saying after the game.
Of Lloyd’s six remaining kickoffs, three went for touchbacks, and Lloyd also hit a 37-yard field goal while connecting on all five of his extra points in a 38-6 Colonel win. Robert Morris also averaged only 12 yards on its four kickoff returns.
“We really needed that type of performance,” Hood said.
Lloyd continued to build off that effort, though he missed the team’s fifth and sixth games of the season with an injury. When Lloyd returned Oct. 19 against Tennessee Tech following the team’s bye week, Hood elected to have Pray handle extra-point duties, with Lloyd handling the field goals and kickoffs.
Hood said he made that move just to keep both kickers involved and active.
Lloyd said he’s just tried to focus on being the best at his role since, and that means aiming for 100 percent accuracy on field goals, and a touchback every time on kickoffs.
And there’s no question that he enjoys doing it more at a Division I level. Though he’s kicked as best as he could wherever he’s been, there’s something about competing with the best collegiate players in front of crowds of 14,500 at Roy Kidd Stadium (EKU’S top home crowd this year) or 53,647 (the attendance when EKU played at Louisville) that brings out the best in Lloyd.
“I love being able to play in these games,” Lloyd said. “There’s just nothing like the atmosphere that you get [in Division I].”
With Pray gone after this year, Lloyd will have the opportunity to take ownership of all the kicking responsibilities as a senior.
Basically, Hood will be able to be a little more relaxed about the state of his kicking game going into the offseason more than he has in recent years.
“It’s great to know that he can help us next year,” Hood said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1