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Salerno's leg is a weapon for NIU
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/19/2009 12:03 AM

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Here are two random Mike Salerno factoids that sound unrelated but aren't:

Fact 1: Draft expert Mel Kiper ranks the Northern Illinois senior as the No. 5 kicking prospect in the upcoming NFL draft.

Fact 2: Last summer during NIU's annual golf outing/fundraiser at St. Andrews Golf Club in West Chicago, Salerno captured the long-drive contest with a 346-yard blast.

Where's the correlation? For the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Salerno, it's all in the hips.

If you've ever seen Tiger Woods' torso twist when he crushes a drive, then you understand what makes Salerno go on the golf course as well as the football field.

"That's why I hit the ball so far," Salerno said. "I throw my hips through and have a very fast swing speed. Same thing with kicking. I have a very high leg speed.

"I'm not strong. I have a lot of leg speed and my leg just extends back farther than most guys, I'd say. I think that's from the flexibility I work on."

Salerno has the kind of leg that can make a difference on underdog occasions like today, when Northern Illinois travels to Purdue (11 a.m., BTN) in search of the program's second win over a Big Ten school in 35 tries.

Salerno, one of 30 candidates on the Lou Groza Award's preseason watch list, has converted 10 straight field-goal attempts. But none of those kicks have been longer than 40 yards.

To get a better idea of the 2005 Sandburg High School graduate's range, you need to understand what he accomplished this summer.

Opting to put his blossoming golf game on the shelf, Salerno focused on working with NIU strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein as well as longtime kicking coach Darren Monnett (a Sandburgh and NIU alum who served as the Huskies' punter in 1987).

Salerno's first payoff came at one of the nation's biggest kicking competitions: The Kohl's National Elite Camp held July 23-25 at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

With 53 college kickers in attendance, including several of the nation's other top seniors, Salerno either shared the title or claimed it alone depending on your perspective.

"Everybody got 14 field goals," Salerno said. "You started at the 40 from the left (hash), middle and right (hash). You got three at 40, 45, 50 and 55 (yards). Then you got two at 60."

At the end of the competition, only Salerno and Central Michigan's Andrew Aguila converted 11 of the 14 kicks.

"But I (made) a 60-yarder and three 55s where he didn't have the long ones," said Salerno, whose 60-yard miss banged into the upright.

"It definitely was a successful trip for me. That's why I wanted to do that: To get my name out there."

The Kohls promised to send the results to every professional football organization in North America - from the NFL to the Canadian Football League to Arena League 2 - so that serves as a big part of Salerno's resume.

At least until he reaps his second payoff - another performance like last year's showing against Bowling Green.

Not only did he open the game with a school record-tying 52-yard field goal, he closed out the 16-13 win with a 30-yard kick in the final 12 seconds.

"I set the bar really high for myself," Salerno said. "I know (the NFL) is a realistic goal. There are just 32 spots, so I know it's not the easiest thing to accomplish. But I'm definitely not going to give up on it."