Football

The following is a story I wrote about my football background for Kicking.com, a website I helped develop in 2002 with two former NFL players.

I always loved football growing up. I just happened to play soccer as well. Most kickers start the other way around, but as my soccer skills improved, and my height and weight didn’t give me hope that I would be a star athlete (5’4″, 80 lbs in junior high), I realized that kicking was the best position for me to continue playing football. In fifth grade, I started to work on my kicking with my mom and dad. We bought a red sidewinder tee with the Jan Stenarud kicking manual inside. It was a simple little booklet, but it is still a great resource for anyone getting started.

I quickly learned the benefit of practice. Before school was a good time, as the park was on my way to junior high, and close to my house. I enjoyed it, and I got better the more I practiced. I would go to the park as much as I could, hoping I would be prepared enough for a real-life game situation. Looking back, I should have invested in a push mower. It would have paid for itself, with all the super long grass fields I’ve kicked on over the years.

Kicking came very natural to me, and I was really anxious to get into a game and attempt a kick. I would have to wait a few years before that happened. We didn’t have tackle football until junior high in Iowa City. I asked the coach if we could try an extra point in 7th grade. He told me that it was too difficult at that level (then we played a team that kicked their PATs, and I was furious!). I worked strictly on punting and kickoffs that year, as well as the next year. Finally my freshman year of high school, I would get my chance. Unfortunately, the field we played on had college width uprights, so I was happy making only half of my PATs. It was a great learning experience, and got me ready for the “big-time’ (varsity football). I kept at it, and slowly gained distance on my kicks. My freshman year, I could make a 30-yarder. My sophomore year, I was able to hit from 35 yards. By my junior year, I was starting to grow (close to 6′ tall) and was hitting about 40 yarders. By my senior year, I had grown (6’2″, 160 lbs) and could make 50-55 yarders on a good day. I was an All-State kicker my senior year, hitting 5 of 7 FGs, with a long of 37 yards (not what you would call headline grabbing stats)

I was determined to continue playing in college, and I would not settle for less than Division I. No scholarship offers came my way, so I decided to stay home and walk-on at the University of Iowa. It was an easy choice, as my only other offer was to walk-on at Northern Iowa (UNI). They are a great football program, and I was honored with the invitation, but I knew I could make it at the Division I level.

My first year, I was redshirted (like most freshman, even those on scholarship). I spent that year putting on weight (now 6’4” and 185 lbs, up 20 lbs from when I arrived on campus). By my senior year, I was up to 215 lbs, a gain of 50 lbs!

I had always been good at getting to the gym. I would sometimes spend a little too much time lifting and not enough kicking. I had good leg strength, but lacked the accuracy that comes from perfecting the fundamentals. I would kick thousands and thousands of balls during the summer months, and still struggle making chip shots (short FGs). During one afternoon, I stood at the 50 and kicked a FG in both directions. Then I walked up to the 20 yard line for a short FG, and pushed it right. This would be the story of my kicking career. I was so determined to be a threat from anywhere on the field that I lacked the consistency needed to make me a successful college kicker. Iowa had to use two kickers, one who kicked PATs and FGs inside the 30, and I kicked off and attempted FGs outside the 30. I did quite well, since that was all I had been practicing over the years (6-9 career over 50 yards). Unfortunately, my philosophy of “if I can make it from 60, I should be able to make it from anywhere” didn’t work out.

I felt I had the natural ability to kick in the NFL, but my accuracy needed some serious work. I only kicked inside the 30 that whole winter prior to the signing period. In 1997, the New York Giants took a chance on me, and I was kicking as well as I ever had. They were able to correct some inconsistencies in my approach, and make me focus on doing it the same each time. I wasn’t able to make the team, but it was a great experience. I played in the Arena league (made my first game-winning FG) for the Iowa Barnstormers, went back to NY as a punter the next year (1999), then played in some semi-pro leagues, and on two championship Arena2 teams with the Quad City Steamwheelers (the most successful teams I’ve ever played on, we went 37-1 over two seasons). I actually didn’t get to kick a game-winning FG or play on a championship team until after college.

One thing I would have changed, if I had to do it again, was my practice time. I don’t know if there was anyone who spent more time on the field kicking than I did. I felt that if I outworked my competition, I would be the most successful. That wasn’t completely true. I did not practice wisely. Had I focused more on each and every kick, I wouldn’t have had to spent two hours and 150 balls trying to get my approach correct each time I went out. I chewed up my fair share of fields (the Iowa groundskeeper and I were not fans of each other). If I missed a kick, I would set it up again immediately, and fire off another kick. If there is a kicking style out there, I’ve tried it, and had been somewhat successful with it, based on the shear amount of time spent on each technique. Imagine if I had spent that time perfecting my first kicking style? A great saying that I wish I understood at the time is “quality, not quantity”. I spent way too much time trying to find a technique that did it all (accuracy and distance), instead of focusing and practicing the 95% of most kicks (short FGs and PATs).

I have had an opportunity to kick at all levels of play, and have had success and failure at every one. You know the feeling, when there are days that you can’t miss a thing and want to turn pro immediately, and others where “the broad side of a barn” is nearly impossible to hit.

Two things have carried over in my life from my football career: working hard and dealing well with pressure. When you play in front of large, hostile crowds and have to perform, or you’ve been “boo-ed” by your own fans, everything else seems easy!

Timeline

1981 – Start playing organized soccer

1984 – Start practicing kicking

1986 – Start playing organized football in junior high

1989 – Start attempting PATs for freshman team

1990 – Named to all-conference team as kicker

1991 – Named to all-conference team as kicker for 2nd time, named to Class 4A all-state 1st team kicker

1992 – Walk-on at University of Iowa football team

1993 – Play in first college football game as a punter. Was beat out as punter, switched to kickoffs, backup kicker and short-range (pooch) punter. Ended the season as starting kicker in Alamo Bowl, and made my first college FG.

1994 – Lost the kicker job in the spring season. Kicked off for first 3 games, then regained the kicker position for the rest of the season.

1995 – Started the season as the kicker, but lost the job after the 2nd game. Continued to kickoff, be the short-range punter, and was the kicker for long-range FGs (over 45 yards). Named Special Teams MVP in the Sun Bowl.

1996 – Continued role as long-range kicker, short-range punter, and kicked off.

1997 – Signed with New York Giants as a kicker. Released from team during roster cuts after playing in two preseason games (kicked off and kicked one PAT).

1998 – Signed with Iowa Barnstormers, and played 5 games before being released. Later came back for one game to kick game-winning FG. Setup website that later became the Kicking.com website (Kickers and Punters Only!)

1999 – Re-signed with New York Giants as a punter. Released from team during roster cuts after playing in one preseason game (one punt).

2000 – Signed with Quad City Steamwheelers. Went undefeated (19-0) and won first Arena Cup.

2001 – Won the Arena Cup for 2nd year, going 18-1.

2002 – Launched new version of Kicking.con website.

2002 – 2005: Played with various semi-pro teams for fun.

2007 – Attended first National Camp Series event, and helped develop algorithm for KIX rating. Have attended this event for the past 10 years.