Rookie kicker Richie Leone settling in with B.C. Lions

Richie Leone, Jonathon Jennings

When he isn’t booting footballs for a living, Richie Leone can often be found on a golf course.

And like his hobby, the rookie kicker for the B.C. Lions says his day job is mostly won and lost between the ears.

“The mental aspect is very similar,” Leone said after practice Tuesday. “You look across the NFL and the CFL, a lot of specialists are golfers.

“Both positions are very mental.”

Leone needed a level of concentration similar to a golfer lining up a winning putt on Friday when he nailed a club-record 56-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter against the Saskatchewan Roughriders to force overtime in a game the Lions went on to win 35-32.

“You try to treat practice just like those situations,” said Leone, who finished the night 5 for 5 on field goals. “The big ones are always the fun ones, right?”

The calm and cool 23-year-old from Roswell, Ga., was briefly with the Lions at the end of last season before attending minicamp with the Pittsburgh Steelers this winter. He was waived in the spring and rejoined the Lions right before training camp.

B.C. head coach Jeff Tedford wanted one player handling all three facets of the kicking game, and Leone fit the bill, which led to the release of veteran Paul McCallum.

Despite being brought in to try and take his job, Leone said he and McCallum got along well during their time together.

“He’s very professional and obviously in this business there’s some things that you can’t really control,” said Leone, who also impressed with some booming punts. “It was very much a mentor-student type thing. He was able to help me out and I’m very grateful for that.”

The 45-year-old McCallum eventually signed with the Roughriders and connected on his only field-goal attempt on Friday.

“We shook hands and kind of embraced (after the game),” said Leone. “He said: ‘Hey man great kick.’ I said: ‘It means a lot coming from you.”’

The University of Houston product, who kicked field goals in high school but was strictly a punter in college until his senior year, Leone has already endeared himself to teammates with his early heroics as B.C. improved to 1-1.

“That is right up there with some of the most clutch kicks I’ve ever seen,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. “That’s huge for a younger player, so I was proud that he hit that one and also happy that he’s our guy right now and has got some good momentum to continue to build on.”

Despite all of the good feeling after a comeback win that saw B.C. rally from 11 points down in the fourth quarter, the team knows it has to be better, especially when it comes to discipline.

The Lions were flagged for more than 150 yards of infractions against Saskatchewan after taking nearly 100 yards in penalties in their opener against the Ottawa Redblacks.

“Throughout the league penalties have really hindered teams and that’s been true of us,” said Lulay, whose team visits Saskatchewan in a rematch on Friday. “Everybody just needs to be accountable to themselves and to their teammates and take it upon themselves to play smart.”

Leone uses his head on the field and the golf course _ he’s a 13 handicap and played a round with Lions linebacker Adam Bighill on Monday _ and knows he will need more than one clutch kick to earn anything close to the level of trust and respect McCallum had during his 10 years with B.C.

“I think it might be a step in that direction,” said Leone. “It’s a long season, so hopefully we’ll keep delivering performances like that.”