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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Keegan

Kansas kicker Nick Prolago makes the most of his moment

Kansas kicker Nick Prolago (16) and holder Blake Jablonski (17) celebrate Prolago's field goal against Texas during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas kicker Nick Prolago (16) and holder Blake Jablonski (17) celebrate Prolago's field goal against Texas during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

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If Greg Brown had caught that interception or if Colt McCoy’s kid brother hadn’t hooked up with Jordan Shipley’s kid brother on that fourth down completion or if Tyler Patmon had not been beaten on the left sideline for that dagger of a long completion, Kansas University would have beaten Texas in a football game Saturday for the first time since 1938.

And walk-on kicker Nick Prolago would have been the unlikeliest hero in the history of KU football.

Instead, Texas came from behind to win the game in Memorial Stadium with 12 seconds left. If Kansas had won, reporters would have elbowed each other to get closer to Prolago in order to tell a fresh life story of an underdog making history.

Instead, the moment Texas scored, Prolago’s less-than-15 minutes of fame vanished. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday night, he still never had been interviewed by a reporter. Not in high school. Not in junior college. Not at Kansas.

He did his job and made a 29-yard field goal that gave Kansas a lead that almost stood up. He didn’t have anything to do with what happened after that, so the 5-foot-10, left-footed kicker from Olathe Northwest High deserves to have his story told.

You remember the kid who couldn’t take a hint? The kid who couldn’t get it through his thick skull that he’s just not good enough to play anymore and needs to find something else to do with his time — you know, take cello lessons or start a stamp collection.

Prolago had to reason to feel like that kid just a few months ago. He went to Butler Community College in El Dorado, thinking he would be the field-goal kicker in the fall of 2011 for the perennial junior college powerhouse. Instead, he was told to red-shirt and the job was given to the kicker who had red-shirted the previous year.

Prolago transferred to Kansas and showed up to try out for spring football. Special teams coach Clint Bowen told him he didn’t have the necessary paperwork and to come back for summer camp when he took care of that. Prolago called the KU athletic department compliance office the next day and was told to call back in the summer.

“I was told no at Butler and got red-shirted,” Prolago said. “I was told no in the spring because I didn’t fill out the right papers. I thought maybe it wasn’t my path in life. I honestly kind of gave up on it over the summer, but I had everyone in my corner telling me to do what makes me happy.

“And kicking made me happy and playing football. I love playing football. Everyone said I’d regret it later on in life if I didn’t at least try.”

So he took care of the compliance paperwork, and when it was processed he received a call from Bowen, who invited him to show up for summer camp and told him to work on kickoffs, where the team needed the most help. Punter Ron Doherty ranked at the top of the field-goal depth chart. Prolago had not worked on kickoffs at Butler and always had enjoyed kicking field goals more.

“I was surprised I did so well on kickoffs at camp,” he said. “Maybe it was just adrenaline that got me through.”

Starting with the Week 2 game against Rice, Prolago — the kid who knew Lawrence well because his father Frank was meat manager at Hy-Vee in Lawrence for 11 years and Nick used to tag along with him now and then — was on a field with 40,000 people watching him.

Kansas coach Charlie Weis twice has trusted Prolago to attempt a field goal. He missed a 30-yard attempt against Oklahoma in Norman.

With the score with Texas tied, 14-14, and 2:28 left on the game clock last Saturday, Weis sent Prolago onto the field to attempt a 29-yard field goal. Prolago had not made a field goal in a game in two years, since his senior year in high school, when he booted a career-best 41-yarder against Shawnee Mission West. Prolago said Wednesday that to the best of his recollection, his second-longest field goal in a game came from 30 yards out.

As the go-ahead drive mounted, Prolago readied himself on the sidelines.

“Everyone kept coming up to me, ‘Do your job. Do your job. Put it through. Be confident. Don’t worry about it.’ It helped,” he said. “It showed me they had my back. My teammates had confidence in me. That week in practice, I had kicked a 45-yarder to not run.”

Had he missed that, the entire team would have done sprints. He made it. They didn’t have to run.

“I thought back to that during the game,” Prolago said. “I thought, ‘Kick it, just like at practice.’ My teammates knew I had it in me from that kick in practice. It was just extra confidence that really helped me out.”

Prolago boomed it through the uprights, and when he watched it again on YouTube he estimated he had 20 yards to spare.

A soccer player from kindergarten through eight grade and a football player since then, Prolago had no trouble answering where that kick ranked on his lifetime list of athletic achievements.

“No. 1,” he said. “I’ve never been in a huge situation like that. As the game was going on in the fourth quarter, I was thinking, ‘Man, my time has come. I always see this on TV, and I would really love to be that guy.’ It came down to it and I was that guy.”

The butcher’s son was that guy and that guy beat the pressure and came within a dozen ticks of beating the Longhorns.

Comments

nostradavid 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for interviewing Nick. Best of luck to him. Our taking the lead with his kick made a lot of people happy. All of those ifs in your first paragraph added up to a tough break. The psychology of satisfaction foretells great joy when the breaks finally go our way.

nuleafjhawk 2 years, 1 month ago

Nice! Rarely do we get to see three " ifs" in one sentence.

I'll bet that our posters could come up with an "if" scenario that would have us undefeated to this point in the season.......

Jonathan Allison 2 years, 1 month ago

I think I've already seen it quite a few times too. If Sims weren't suspended, if coach had pulled Crist, if McCay were eligible, if Texas has injured Landry Jones, if Bill Snyder had a stroke...

flyingfinn 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes and if a frog had wings he would not bump his butt when he jumped

Bill Kackley 2 years, 1 month ago

If nuleafjhawk didn't have such a positive attitude

Tony Bandle 2 years, 1 month ago

What ifs.

1] If John Wooden had stayed in Lawrence after pouring concrete and eventually become the KU Coach and Allen would now be Wooden's Woodshed. 2] If no one had thought to build a track at Memorial. 3] If Doc Naismith decided swimming laps was a great winter exercise. 4] If no one had invented the word "if"!!

MoralVictory 2 years, 1 month ago

A good story about perseverance and success. Congratulations to Nick on pursuing his dream and hitting a very important field goal. Let's hop that it is one of many for this young man.

Reuben_J_Cogburn 2 years, 1 month ago

You did your job, Nick. And we're grateful for it.

Dirk Medema 2 years, 1 month ago

It is good to know that he has made 40 yarders, though I still think we're probably better off pushing for 7 on 4th downs. You need to take some chances to score some points when getting as few as we are. It is also good to know that Nick is only a soph/RSF, and has 3+ more years to develop as well. It's also nice to know that there is a redshirt waiting to give him some competition next year. We're a long ways from 1 FG making the ST/team even average.

Nick's kick was a nice step in the right direction.

John Boyle 2 years, 1 month ago

This is a great story and I hope Nick continues to develop and gets a stronger leg by working with the strength and conditioning staff but it also kind of shows where the KU football program is at. A walk-on with limited range has become our go to guy in field goal situations. I'm not trying to be negative just realistic. Like I said I hope Nick keeps working hard and becomes the kind of kicker that can consistently hit from 40+ yards out. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

KGphoto 2 years, 1 month ago

Nice job. This is a great story that has a chance to become even better. Perseverance has gotten you this far, Nick. Don't stop now. You can kick a 45 yarder? The next step is kicking it at a 75% clip. That'll make you a consistent threat. It will change the way Weis game plans, and this moment vs. Texas will be surpassed by a game winning kick in a bowl game. Maybe even next year!

Hey, I wonder if holding for that kick was Jablonski's greatest moment.

ahpersecoachingexperience 2 years, 1 month ago

If Grandma had balls...

She could use them to practice kicking field goals and be better than any of our kickers!

lv_jhwk 2 years, 1 month ago

If Grandma had balls... wouldn't that make her Grandpa?!

And yes, he would probably be better than any of our kickers. (Nice back story on Prolago, but counting on someone whose 30 yard effort tied for their second best ever doesn't instill confidence.)

texashawk10 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree with lv jhwk that this is a nice story about working hard and pursuing one's dream, but this story also does little to build much confidence about Prolago as a place kicker by mentioning that 30 off a tee was second best effort.

Tony Bandle 2 years, 1 month ago

Sorry...never got past your avatar...please repost with a picture of Mangino in a speedo!!

kufreak1512 2 years, 1 month ago

For anyone who is interested the bucs traded aqib talib to the patriots today

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