Pikula kicking under spotlight

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Winnipeg kicker Rob Pikula was getting advice from retired Blue Bomber kicker Bob Cameron the other day.

Don't know if the old man told the kid about his first Labour Day weekend game, how it was so windy and he got so spooked by the big crowd his first punt travelled eight yards -- backward.

No, Cameron likely kept that story to himself. After all, Pikula, the former Western Mustang kicker, has his hands, and probably his head, full enough as it is.

The 25-year-old heir apparent to Troy Westwood as the Bombers faithful foot is coming off a game he'd just as soon boot off to the side. Except for the winning field goal, that is.

Pikula has kicked two of those in a row. But it's his misses, particularly his punts, that have drawn the attention of not only the home-town boo birds but also head coach Doug Berry.

"That's what we've got to straighten out a little bit with Rob," Berry said. "Similar to what we had as an issue with Troy in the past. We've got to have directional punting."

Since the coach brought up the comparison to Old Lefty, we thought we'd offer up the following: Pikula's gross and net average per punt are well below what Westwood posted last season. A season that resulted in Berry taking Westwood's punting duties away for good.

"Rob needs to be better," Berry said. "We have certain expectations . . . and they're not outrageous."

Pikula will have to bounce back in the most outrageous game of the year, before some 30,000 fans who'll make the Winnipeg boo-birds seem like choir boys.

And yes, Pikula certainly heard his home-town "supporters" last Friday.

"If they're going to boo their own players, you've just got to ignore it," he said. "The fans (in Regina) are ruthless, like they are here. They're going to be screaming and yelling. I just ignore it."

For those wondering if Pikula has what it takes to succeed Westwood, we offer a little background.

First of all, the guy claims to have no real quirks. Figures he's actually pretty normal, for a kicker. He certainly won't be trying to fill Old Lefty's considerable shoes when it comes to serving up a quote of the year.

"I'm not going to come up with any cliche terms or anything like that," Pikula said. "I'm pretty quiet."

Calling himself "an athlete that turned into a kicker," he's certainly not lacking in confidence.

Some have questioned his leg strength, but he doesn't.

"I don't feel I need to get a stronger leg at all. My kickoffs last game were fine. Every kick was past 60 yards, and that's what you need in this league. I've just got to get more consistent with the leg I have."

When he's not working on his leg, Pikula is a kinesiologist at McMaster University's sports medicine clinic. He's also in the Chartered Insurance Professional program and plans to do disability assessments for insurance companies.

After graduating from Western, he took a job in the real world rather than sign what he thought was a low-ball offer from Saskatchewan in 2005. Last year, the 'Riders anted up and signed him, but he was released in favour of Luca Congi.

"It was a salary issue," said Pikula, who acts as his own agent.

And now?

"I'm probably the lowest paid kicker in the league," he said, chuckling.

He's OK with that, for now. The money will come.

"But you've got to establish your name in the league before you can ask for a lot of money," he said.

There's no better time to start than the Labour Day weekend.

Just don't ask Bob Cameron.


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