Derek Dimke trusts the years of preparation and learning from a handful of kickers and kicking camps that stretches from Pittsburgh to Ohio through Illinois to Arizona and the NFL. Dimke was 5 for 5 in field goals and made all 12 extra-point kicks after taking over the placekicking chores midway through last season.
Just before the ball is snapped, Illinois junior placekicker Derek Dimke stares at the ground.
The Rockford Boylan High School graduate isn't thinking about his steps, the swing angle of his leg, crowd or pressure of the kick. It's all too late for that.
"I don't try to think about anything,'' Dimke said. "I try to clear my mind. Take a deep breath, relax and do what feels natural.''
At that point, Dimke trusts the years of preparation and learning from a handful of kickers and kicking camps that stretches from Pittsburgh to Ohio through Illinois to Arizona and the NFL. Dimke was 5 for 5 in field goals and made all 12 extra-point kicks after taking over the placekicking chores midway through last season.
He is listed at first string in placekicking and kickoffs for the Illini, who open the season Saturday against Missouri in St. Louis.
Dimke stays in close contact with former Ohio State kicker Tim Williams, who taught Dimke to teach himself.
"I coach kids to coach themselves,'' said Williams, a respected freelance coach and former all-Big Ten kicker. "That's my theory. I started kicking a ball in the sixth grade with nobody but my dad. You learn how to critique yourself. When Derek and I started together, my goal was to teach him to teach himself. He's done a pretty good job at that.
"You have to find your own little way to deal with things. You can over-analyze as a kicker and a coach. With a guy like Derek, you're dealing more in perfecting what he's doing.''
In the summer before his senior year at Boylan, Dimke met Williams at the Illinois kicking camp. The relationship grew to where Williams attends a handful of Illinois games and meets with Dimke just about every month, either in Champaign or Williams' home in Dayton.
"Tim is always a phone call away,'' said Dimke, who found help in becoming a kicker from other sources.
A club soccer player whose strong leg came in handy as a defender or sweeper, Dimke chose to play football in high school.
"I certainly wasn't saddened by it, but it was his call,'' said Dimke's father, Tim, a starter at defensive back at Eastern Illinois in a career that ended in 1976.
Tim Dimke's roommate at Eastern Illinois, Ted Petersen, later played on the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers. On a weekend trip to see Petersen and the Steelers play, Dimke was introduced to Steelers kicker Matt Bahr.
"That was one of the first times I started kicking a football,'' Dimke said. "He had a field in his backyard. We went out there and kicked. It was a great time.''
As Dimke became more serious, he attended more camps. He met kicker Billy Cundiff at a camp in Des Moines, Iowa. Cundiff, the starting kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, still communicates regularly and visits with Dimke at Cundiff's home in Phoenix.
Dimke also spent time with Bears kicker Robbie Gould this summer after an event in Rockford.
Before his senior season at Boylan, Dimke took the opportunity seriously after getting involved with the camps, and it paid off. He kicked a state playoff record 54-yard field goal, and 85 percent of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
"We came within three points of setting the conference record for defense that year,'' Boylan coach Dan Appino said. "Nearly every drive would have been an 80-yarder. It was a huge difference.''
Dimke is a "Type A personality,'' Appino said, and thrives on preparation. Through workouts with Illini strength coach Lou Hernandez, Dimke's kicking leg is slightly larger than his left leg. More strength helped on kickoffs. Dimke averaged 63.3 yards per kickoff last season and boosted it to 69 yards in preseason camp.
Dimke also works hard in the classroom. He was an academic all-Big Ten selection last season.
Williams, who worked with kickers on college rosters at about 30 schools, gave his input to Illinois coach Ron Zook, who recruited Williams to Ohio State as a Buckeyes assistant.
"A lot of kickers have a kicking coach,'' Zook said. "Tim was the first one who told me about Derek. I have confidence in what he says.''
Dimke and Matt Eller, who lost the job last season, struggled in the final open scrimmage. In four field goal attempts, they combined for three misses and one failed try on a botched snap. Dimke missed a 44-yarder into the wind.
"I was so excited to be out there, I pulled my head up,'' Dimke said. "When that happens, it goes right. Thank God it wasn't a game.''
Those start later this week. By the time he goes out there, Dimke will do what feels natural.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
WITHIN HIS RANGE
Name: Derek Dimke
Size: 6-0, 180
Parents: Tim Dimke serves as Rockford Park district executive director. Debra Dimke is the executive director of human resources for Peoria Public School District 150.
Did you know? Dimke earned Big Ten special teams player of the week after kicking field goals of 30, 39, and 48 yards plus three extra points in loss to Cincinnati last season.