KAMLOOPS — There was a requisite amount of watching film for Richie Leone after completing his rookie CFL season but part of the reason he has become impossible to miss at B.C. Lions training camp this year is because of what he was reading.
The 24-year-old isn’t into old newspaper clippings or how-to kicking manuals but more the writings of Dr. Bob Rotella, which also isn’t surprising given that between everything else Leone does during the off-season he spends a fair bit of time on the golf course.
Rotella is a sports psychologist whose writings include Golf is Not a Game of Perfect and How Champions Think. It’s a perfect window into Leone’s mindset a year after he was given the Lions kicking job, then had wildly inconsistent stretches as both parties tried to justify the decision to jettison Paul McCallum.
The result has been on display in impressive fashion through the first portion of camp this year. Leone still has to do it in games that matter of course, and Saturday’s pre-season opener against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6 p.m., TSN/TSN1040) still hardly qualifies as pivotal.
Nonetheless, it’s impossible to ignore Leone’s improvement.
“I had a whole off-season to put together a plan, to get a good mental approach and managing all three (punts, field goals and kickoffs),” he said. “That’s something I spent a lot of time on. It’s important to start off good because if you start with a good rhythm is crucial for me.”
Leone made his first 12 field goals but with protection breakdowns occurring everywhere on special teams the confidence of a kicker who hadn’t attempted a competitive three-pointer in four years was severely tested.
Punting was never a problem. Leone finished with a 49.5-yard average, threatening the league record. If camp this year is any indication that mark could fall. Leone’s kicks appear as if they could attract raindrops at times during camp, but it’s important to note it has not been at the expense of his directional punting.
A scout with the Houston Texans attending camp last week wasn’t initially focused on Leone but couldn’t help but get out his stopwatch to measure Leone’s hangtime on punts.
Estimates of his punts one day last week, though aided mightily by a prairie-style tailwind, were upwards of 70 yards. Leone had field goal success on the same day, despite the fact the ball was almost blown at an 90-degree angle. It is not an old wive’s tale.
The issue was his erratic work dealing with converts, missing at least one in each of his last six regular season games. They are the type of confidence-shattering plays that can cut through an entire locker room. The Lions knew they had a problem and suggested Leone spend some time in the Lower Mainland working with Don Sweet, who works with a number of CFL kickers.
“We showed him all the bad kicks and how they were so much the same. Then I showed some good kicks,” said Sweet. “The most important thing was that he said ‘coach, here I am, whatever you want to do.’ Last season he was reluctant, as I probably would be myself, to make a change (to his kicking approach). When he realized he wasn’t getting any better, it was time for total change.”
He’s changed all right, though in many respects the good parts of Leone’s game appear to have become better. And in less than a year, he’s gone from protégé to mentor, with SFU rookie Tiernan Docherty asking questions of Leone that not long ago he was putting to others himself.
What hasn’t changed is the fact Leone refuses to beat himself up over misses.
“There’s a time and place to study and work and mechanics but when you go on the field you put that aside. You don’t want to be thinking about that mumbo-jumbo,” Leone said.
“Last year on some of the kicks that missed bad I was focusing on a little aspect and everything else leaves…I was just trying to survive, whereas this year I’m focusing on ball contact.”
If all else fails, it’s back to the bookshelf.