Ryley Guay seeks a fresh start in second season as Commodore kicker


Photo by Claire Barnett

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

About a year ago, Vanderbilt kicker Ryley Guay started turning some heads at the Commodores’ 2018 Spring Showcase with some long warmup kicks in blustery and rainy conditions.

He continued to turn heads in fall camp, hitting some kicks from 60 yards out with room to spare in practice.

However, by the time September was over, Head Coach Derek Mason went in front of reporters after a narrow win over Tennessee State and said “There will be a kicking competition this week. It’s flat-out ridiculous. I trust Ryley, [but] he has to do better too. We make practice big, but we can’t expect everyone else to get better and not watch what he’s doing. We have a lot of things to clean up.”

Even though Guay responded in kind after that comment, making five of his last seven attempts from beyond 40 yards on the season, he is prepared to turn over a new leaf in 2019.

“Honestly, I put last season behind me as a whole,” Guay said during Vanderbilt Football’s spring camp. “I use it as a learning experience, and it’s kind of a stepping stone into what I feel like is definitely going to be a breakout season for me. I learned a lot from that season, whether from a mental side of things, technique side of things, I’ve grown a lot mentally and physically, and I really think it’s a building block that I can set up for future success.”

Photo by Emma Stapleton

As a walk-on, Guay won the job last season over scholarship kicker Javan Rice after Tommy Openshaw graduated. When he faced adversity throughout the season, Guay said he relied on Openshaw and other resources to help guide him through it.

“I had couple of resources and outlets that I talked to,” Guay said. “I talked to Tommy Openshaw a bunch. Starting for an SEC team is a big deal, and really the only people who can understand it are people who have been in those shoes. He was arguably my biggest asset in that regard.”

Despite his struggles on field goals, particularly early in the season, Guay excelled in other areas in 2018. He was a perfect 47-47 on extra points, and allowed opponents to return just 25% of his 63 kickoffs. His excellence in those areas represent another building block for his senior season.

Between the fall and this spring, Mason sees a completely revitalized Guay.

“Ryley’s not in his own head,” Mason said. “Right now, he just kicks the ball. If he misses one, he has a propensity to come back and he’s been way more consistent. This is the first time I’ve seen him this consistent. I really attribute it to having experience and growing up. He’s going into his third year, he’s a junior, and when you’ve gotten to your junior year and you’ve kicked a little bit as freshman and a sophomore, it’s time for you to stand up, so that’s where he is.”

The spring was also one of change for Guay and the entire special teams group, as former Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Mennenga left the program after just one season to take the special teams job with the Green Bay Packers. In February, the Commodores added former Detroit Lions Special Teams Coach Devin Fitzsimmons as special teams coordinator.

Photo by Claire Barnett

“Coach Fitz” got to work with Matt Prater, one of the best kickers in the NFL, while with the Lions, and he brings a focus on fundamentals that has helped Guay in his development.

“I’m a big fundamentalist,” Fitzsimmons said. “I looked at everything: his eyes, his head, his feet, his shoulders, his hips, his leg, his follow-through, all of that small stuff and just kind of dissected it with him and had him really coach me up on his style of kicking. For the last five years, I’ve been with Matt Prater, so I kind of know how Prater kicks. I have to learn how Ryley and how Javan kick.”

The goal of all of that basic fundamental work is consistency for Guay and the entire special teams unit. He showed flashes of his brilliance and booming leg throughout the season, but his problem was that for every long kick he made, he’d also shank a short chip shot.

With Fitzsimmons dissecting every bit of Guay’s kicking motion, that consistency can start to develop.

“I think the most valuable thing in life is consistency,” Fitzsimmons said. “No question, especially in the special teams world. We don’t have a second down or a third down. We have a one-play series, so I think the biggest thing is being consistent. As long as we can be good fundamentally and have the same routine and be consistent, then we’ll be cooking with grease.”

For Guay, what happened in the past is far back in his rearview mirror, and all he can do is focus on the next kick ahead of him and make sure that he’s checking all of the boxes that Fitzsimmons has laid out for him in his mechanics.

“Practice makes perfect,” Guay said. “Repetition is key to moving forward. I have some tweaks in my arsenal that I think I’m really going to try and perfect over spring ball and just use this, as well as last season, as well as the spring before that, all as building blocks that I can set up for an awesome senior season.”