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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Keegan

Opinion: Kansas kicker defies norm

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Fairy tales don’t come true in the most savage team sport of all. As a football player, either you get dirty, take pain and dish it, like it, rise above the competition and move to the next level, or you hang up your pads and hope the sport didn’t give you lifelong aches and limps.

Unless, of course, you are a kicker. Then none of the rules apply. Matthew Wyman, a sophomore from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is living, breathing, kicking proof of that.

After failing to make the team a year ago in walk-on tryouts, Wyman went to “a few” Kansas University football games but didn’t follow the team that closely. His father, he said, was more on top of the Jayhawks.

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Kansas University Media Relations

Matthew Wyman

Wyman, who lived in McCollum Hall his freshman year, wouldn’t be watching KU’s football game on TV when he would receive word from someone who was watching.

“My dad was always texting me: ‘So and so missed this field goal,’” Wyman said.

Just because the son wasn’t always watching didn’t mean he didn’t share his father’s sentiment.

“There were some times when I would say, ‘I could make that.’ But no worries,” Wyman said. “I figured I’d get my chance.”

He figured he’d get his chance? Can you say delusional? The guy attempted one field goal in his four-game high school career, and it was blocked, just like many of his punts. He wasn’t used for extra points.

Based on that background and the story he told of his father and himself thinking he ought to be kicking field goals for a Big 12 football team, this had all the trappings of a sad, sad tale of a parent unable to let go of an absolutely baseless dream that his son could make the big time when he couldn’t even help a winless high school team.

There I go thinking the rules of the rest of the planet apply to kickers. Silly me. Too old to make mistakes such as that.

The real story is that a high school soccer kicker who never was taught how to kick a field goal or the footwork of kicking off never stopped believing in the strength of his foot, and the dad never stopped believing in the strength of the son.

Emerging from a crowded competition on top, Wyman will handle field goals and extra points in Saturday’s season-opener against South Dakota. He never has kicked an extra point in a game, and his 50-yard attempt for Bloomfield Hills Andover High was blocked.

The road to first-string place-kicker for a Big 12 football team started at soccer practice during his senior year in high school. The football coach asked if anybody would be interested in kicking for the football team. Wyman volunteered, and so did a friend.

Wyman, who had the stronger foot, handled kickoffs and punts in the four games he played for the football team between injuries — first a fractured back, then a broken foot. His friend, who couldn’t reach the end zone on kickoffs, handled the extra points.

“I always have been able to kick it the farthest of anybody I ever played (soccer) with,” Wyman said.

Soccer remained his top priority as a senior in high school.

“Usually, I’d just go to soccer practice, show up for the football game, kick, not get in a routine,” he said. “Kickoffs, I’d just walk back and run at the ball and kick it. I didn’t take any steps back or anything, just kind of a spur of the moment, run at the ball and kick it.”

Still, he said he was determined to play college football as a walk-on.

His mother urged him to visit KU.

“I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to check out Kansas,’” Wyman said. “She said, “I hear it’s a great school. ” I came here, and I liked it. ... I came during the Missouri-Kansas basketball game, the last one. I knew right from then I wanted to go here.”

He tried out for the football team, got cut and received a call from KU assistant coach Scott Vestal inviting him to try out again during spring football. He made the team, but ranked way down on the depth chart.

“I started off slow,” he said. “My nerves got the best of me. And then I started making some. I started to get to know the guys. My nerves kind of went away.”

He cited Friday, Aug. 16, as the day he felt as if he had moved to the head of the pack.

“I kicked really well that day, and I have continued to kick really well, and it’s been uphill from there,” he said. “I got some confidence the past couple of weeks. I think that’s really helped me kicking. I’m getting used to it. Now I know the guys. I’m settling in.”

Plus, for the first time, he’s practicing kicking a football on a daily basis and with a leg strengthened by weight workouts.

“My ball is going higher, it’s going farther,” Wyman said. “I’ve definitely improved.”

Kansas coach Charlie Weis said the competition Wyman won “wasn’t really close.”

Said Wyman: “The competition was good for me. I think I did surprise myself a little. I wasn’t expecting to come out here and be one of the best. That was surprising for me.”

He said he thinks the longest kick he has made against a rushing defense in practice went for 54 yards. Asked Wednesday if he had noticed Wyman in practice, safety Isaiah Johnson broke into a big grin.

“We noticed him yesterday because it was either he makes the field goal and we don’t run, or he misses and we run,” Johnson said. “He made it. He’s a real good kicker. I had faith in him. He made one before that kept us from running.”

It’s the best way for a coach to simulate game pressure, but it’s still not the same as what faces Wyman, starting Saturday.

“Nerves are good, I think,” Wyman said. “I still get nervous just kicking in front of the team, but I’m mentally tough. I think I can handle it. Once I get a couple of kicks in, I’ll be good to go.”

In the classroom, he majors in psychology and said he intends to attend law school. Then again, maybe he’ll put that on hold to kick in the NFL.

“Hopefully, yeah,” he said through a smile. “That would be cool.”

Comments

Dean Royal 7 months, 1 week ago

Great piece, Tom! Thanks for showing the kickers a little love every now and then. Looking forward to watching Matt perform.

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Randy Bombardier 7 months, 1 week ago

How about Industrial Psych? Pay and career path is excellent.

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DanR 7 months, 1 week ago

On a positive note, Wyman does have some crucial experience in getting his kicks blocked, so he shouldn't be too freaked out after the first bad snap and he sees an entire defense barreling down at him.

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nuleafjhawk 7 months, 1 week ago

Great story and I hope there is a " fairy tale " ending.

My main concern is when our coach knows how extremely terrible our kicking game has been in the past few years, why aren't we out recruiting proven high school players?

I've harped on it for a few years, and will continue to do so, but if we don't take the kicking game seriously, we will never be a good football team.

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actorman 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Love this kind of story; definitely a guy you can root for.

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Thebigpurn 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Kick it long and hard. Make sure it goes through the goal posts. You'll make millions.

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hawk316 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Tom, good article. Thanks for giving us all the interesting background information. If Wyman shows that he can perform on the field under pressure, this will be one of the most amazing sports stories of the year. I, for one, will be rooting for him to excel!

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Keith Hummel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

What a great story! Major kudos to Coach Weis that he gave this kid a chance, and then stayed true to his word of playing the best athlete, no matter who they are. Like everyone else (and Coach Weis I suspect) I'm a little nervous about how this kid is going to perform in a real game, but it's not like we don't have a good alternative if he runs into trouble. I also think we are going to get tired of hearing this kids story by the end of the season, as every announcer/analyst will love to talk about it.

As for the naysayers above who are crapping all over Weis for this decision, you'd be crapping all over him no matter what he decided, so your credibility is zero. Whether the kid succeeds or fails, Weis has stayed true to his word. That's worth something to me, and I suspect it's worth even more to his football team.

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 7 months, 2 weeks ago

This is extremely disturbing.

We supposedly brought great JUCO transfers and guys who have had success on that level.

....they got beat out by a kid who kicked one time, unsuccessfully, in high school.

I think our kicking game will be disasterous again, but this time with an even bigger degree of humiliation.

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Jonathan Allison 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Keegan, thanks for the perspective on Wyman. I didn't know that he tried out last year and was cut. Didn't know that he had so little kicking experience in HS, either.

Makes me a little nervous having a FG kicker with virtually no football kicking background, but it will be a very rare treat to watch him succeed this season.

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BringBackMark 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Weis has already given a sneak peak as to how smart he is by cutting the kid last year. Thank goodness Vestal had an eye for talent. As I remember there were times it would've been nice to have a kicker that could get it to the end zone or inside the 10 for that matter.

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David Leathers 7 months, 2 weeks ago

We'll see how smart Weis truly is. If Wyman has nerves, he's going to need a few kicks to get them out. I say, if the score is out of hand by the 4th quarter then we get our offense to the 30 yard line and kick 47 yarders, no matter the down. We may need Ol' Matty to kick a game winner in week 3 for a little payback.

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John Randall 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's see, now. Do we call him a "red shirt freshman" or just a "walk on kicker" ?

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