MARQUETTE - It's hard to believe, but the Northern Michigan University football team may have upgraded at kicker this offseason.
The statement is tough to fathom because the Wildcats just graduated the best kicker the program has ever known in Rockne Belmonte.
A transfer from Eastern Michigan, Belmonte holds the NMU records for most field goals made in a season (15), made in a career (45) and the longest field goal ever hit in the Superior Dome - 58 yards.
Northern Michigan University junior kicker/punter Jon Linkenheimer punts during an Aug. 20 preseason practice outside the Superior Dome. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Now junior transfer Jon Linkenheimer is taking aim at those marks, and based on his performance in training camp, Belmonte's records may not stand too long.
"When I found out he was available, it was pretty much a no-brainer in terms of recruiting him and getting him here," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said.
"He's not going to make every kick, but no one does. He has more potential in terms of being a big-time kicker than I can ever ask for at this point."
After failed stints at Purdue and Southern Mississippi, Linkenheimer has brought his big leg to Northern to take over the kicking and punting duties, which were both handled by Belmonte in 2012.
So far in training camp, Linkenheimer's longest field goal inside the Superior Dome was 63 yards. He said he feels he can hit from 65 on game day.
On Friday, Linkenheimer hit a punt 59 yards with just one step during a drill that left him pinned back under the goal posts.
"Usually if we touch the 50, I want to go for a field goal instead of a punt," Linkenheimer said. "I can pooch punt, but I'd rather get three points on the board."
Linkenheimer began his college career at Purdue, but he said a torn ACL and family issues forced him to leave school. He later transferred to Southern Mississippi, but things didn't work out there either and he left before classes even began.
Linkenheimer said he expects a different outcome at Northern, not just because the Superior Dome is ideal for kicking, but because the smaller atmosphere is right for him.
"We're a lot closer as a team," Linkenheimer said. "The team atmosphere didn't exist with the last two previous teams I was at. It's smaller, we're closer knit. Not everybody is from all over the country. Everybody is kind of the same."