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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.

photo

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

John Randall 12 months ago

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

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David Leathers 12 months 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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Jason Keller 12 months ago

I agree. And if he shanks a couple, keep him out there and keep him kicking. He has the best leg and best upside.

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qringer 12 months ago

HUGE upside. That is a really cool story - the stuff movies are made from.

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BringBackMark 12 months 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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Brett McCabe 12 months ago

Even Wyman states that he started slow and the nerves got the best of him this year, let alone last year. Do you know a lot of coaches who want a nervous kicker? And wasn't Vestal recently promoted by Weis?

We need the offense to march into the end zone several times on Saturday and give this kid a few easy warm-up kicks. Then a short field goal try and then he'll be good to go.

Best of luck to him!

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Ron Prichard 12 months ago

We get it, already. You don't like Weis. But to be honest, your comment here just shows pettiness , opposed to any real insight. If you refuse to see any of the positive things happening with this team then it makes your statements all the more baseless. Weis clearly isn't perfect but you have to have some perspective even if you are still pining for Mangino, who will not be coming back to KU. Ever.

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rockchalk_dpu 12 months ago

So just to clear this up, you think Weis is stupid because he cut a kicker that didn't perform well during tryouts and did not beat the other kickers he chose/used last year? Ok, good just making sure.

Had the article said anything about Wyman going perfect during tryouts and hitting from 50+ last year but still getting the axe, then I would agree with you, but I'm going to trust that Weis and his staff based their decision on what they saw during tryouts and that they made the best choice possible. No denying that the kicking game was horrible last year, but you are trying to argue that Wyman was the same kid last year that he is this year and the coaching staff is therefore unable to properly assess talent when the article talks about how he was shaky and didn't perform well early in camp this year. I can only imagine how he did last year having no real kicking background.

As raprichard said, you are just being petty and hoping for Mangino to come back, something that will never happen. Get over it.

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MartyrMangino 12 months ago

The guy didn't mention Mangino one time. Is there something wrong with having a name in honor of the best football coach in the history of our program? Would you be making the same assumption about someone with Larry Brown in their name?

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Brett McCabe 12 months ago

First, Larry Brown wasn't fired.

Second, Mark Mangino was 25-35 without Todd Reesing. That doesn't make him the best football coach ever.

Third, his handle explicitly says: Bring Back Mark. It doesn't honor Mangino, it simply is meant to stir the pot.

Finally, most KU fans give Mark Mangino credit for his accomplishments while at KU. It's just when someone tries to make him a martyr that the trouble starts.

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actorman 12 months ago

No way, Atl. Clearly he's talking about Mark Ewing. (Or perhaps it's Mark Summers.)

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MartyrMangino 12 months ago

Again, no one has brought up Mangino here except you. Whether or not Larry Brown was fired has nothing to do with the question I asked you. Are you saying only people whose handles include fired coaches are trying to "stir the pot"? Are you suggesting our athletic department is infallible, such that any coach that was fired couldn't possibly deserve respect? And further, are you suggesting that Todd Reesing, who was not recruited by the big schools, didn't make it in the NFL, and didn't play in the CFL, single-handedly brought Mangino his success? Do tell, Kingfisher. I look forward to reading it. Get all the Turner Gill apologists to back you up on it, too, if you like, if you can find any besides Atl. You obviously wanted to talk Mangino. Let's talk Mangino.

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Ron Prichard 12 months ago

Since I called out BringBackMark for his comment, I will respond to yours as well. I do think there is a place for discussion about the pros and cons of coaches, current and past, on this board. In all honesty, that is exactly what this board is for. It is why we come on here; to discuss everything good--or bad--about KU sports; coaches, players, games, etc. It's what makes this site so fun.

With that said, there are people that still don't like Weis for the simple fact that he isn't Mangino. Mangino was good for KU when he was here, but I firmly believe he had served his purpose and KU will be better off without him in the long run. That does not believe that I am a "Gill apologist." Far from it, I think Gill was a horrible hire. I am also not trying to insinuate that everyone has to drink the Charlie Weis koolade. If you don't think Weis is doing a good job, that is your opinion. My point was that I get tired of hearing how everything Weis does sucks from the people with "Mangino" or "Mark" in their name. So BringBackMark didn't bring up Mangino. You read his comment and tell me that Mangino or a longing for Mangino isn't implicit in the tone of the e-mail when read with the username. If you (MartyrMangino) or BringBackMark don't want me to associate Mangino with your posts and then infer what you mean by associating your username with your post, then change your username.

I don't think anyone has inferred that our athletic department is infallible. Quite the contrary, there have been many mistakes made, but I think you also would have to admit that from what we have seen from Weis after one year (year one record aside) the program is headed in the right direction. No one yet knows how far in the right direction we will go, but there are several signs that things are looking up.

Also, no one has even suggested that Mangino doesn't deserve respect. Re-read Kingfisher's post and show me where he even slightly insinuates that. I actually read into it that people are able to show Mangino some respect while still questioning the overall on field record.

As for Reesing signlehandedly bringing Mangino his success, that is almost an accurate statement. Look what happened when Reesing was hurt. 7 straight losses to end Mangino's career at KU. What single player (or even three) had a bigger impact on KU--and Mangino--other than Reesing? KU and Mangino were average before and basically noncompetitive after Reesing, but with him they were electric.

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MartyrMangino 12 months ago

BringBackMark's post was three short sentences in length. I can't speak for the man, but if there is one criticism that showed up in literally every game of Weis's first season, brought by scads of different fans, it was that our kicking was atrocious. If everyone who made this observation was longing for Mangino, the attitude of some of you folks that the spectre of Mangino is haunting the fanbase would be somewhat less perplexing. Yes, Raprichard, I can read that three-line "email" and assume that the poster was any KU fan who had a pulse last season, not just someone stricken with Mangino nostalgia. I have reconciled myself as best as I ever will with the fact that Mangino is gone, and the circumstances of his exit, and I am at this point very on board with Weis. My handle is in homage to the greatest years I experienced watching KU football. I realize that I could change it and prevent people from using it to take shots at me that are unrelated to my argument, simply because they don't feel that I, someone who stayed on the Mangino boat after it was cool, have a right to share in criticism of the kicking team, the great whipping boy of the rest of the fanbase. I could change it, but I'm not going to. I think the way we treated him was shameful, and I think every poster's blind opposition to things I say simply because they come with a Mangino stamp on them, is indicative of the climate that forced his firing.
Your responses to my questions of Kingfisher are irrelevant, because I wasn't asking you, and you don't have to twist my arm to get me to believe and respect that you aren't a Gill apologist. That was directed at ATL. However, if you do understand what Kingfisher's Larry Brown analogy was supposed to mean, if not that a poster with a Larry Brown handle would be OK because Larry Brown wasn't fired, and thus that firing is a sure sign that the coach deserves being maligned, and thus that our athletic department is infallible in this regard, come forth. Apparently he hasn't figured out what he meant yet, so he will probably thank you. Regardless, the degree of respect he thinks Mangino is entitled to is up for debate, but he seems to be against the level shown by including his name in a handle. As for the attribution of all of Mangino's success to Reesing, I don't know if I can help with this delusion. I suppose it didn't occur to the numerous award selection committees that picked Mangino as coach of the year in 2007 that it was all a sham. Despite all the jokes about his weight, he was able to hide all of his coaching shortcomings behind Todd Reesing. The reasoning used to arrive at this is fairly dubious, if you ask me. So you find Mangino's record in games without Reesing. What is Bill Self's record outside of his time at Kansas? A pedestrian 207-105. So is he just a product of his players?

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MartyrMangino 12 months ago

I am astonished at how posters are continuing to suggest that the people with Mangino in their handles started this discussion on Mangino. It seems to me that you folks have residual, unresolved issues about the man that you try to work out any time someone with Mangino in their handle posts. Tell me that isn't what happened here. Anyway, I refer anyone interested to the article "Buzzkill: Jayhawks suffer first defeat in record-setting 66-24 loss to Georgia Tech" at the start of the 2011 season under Turner Gilol. In the comments to that article, AtlJaybird candidly admitted, "I've been one of Gill's biggest supporters." Later on in that abortion of a season, Atl shed some light on this stance in the article, "KU's home game vs. Oklahoma will kick off at 8:15 p.m. on Oct. 15", published here on Oct. 3, 2011, to be followed by a 70-28 loss to Oklahoma State, which Gill was poised to follow up with a 47-17 loss, a 59-21 loss, and a 43-0 blanking. In the comments, Atl opined: "I like the approach Gill is taking overall, and I plan to support him until he's been given a fair chance and proves he isn't up to the task." Did the rest of those games constitute a fair chance, Atl? Should we have kept him on another season? Just because you eventually woke up and turned on him doesn't absolve you from being an apologist.

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texashawk10 12 months ago

Mark Mangino is NOT the best coach in KU history. That honor goes to Fielding Yost. If you don't know that is, read up on the history of Michigan football.

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NebraskaJayhawk 12 months ago

I wouldn't call a guy that coached one year at a university the best coach in that school's history. He might be the most decorated coach to have ever coached at Kansas, but I wouldn't label him Kansas's best coach of all time. I think there could probably be an arguement made that Mangino is one of the best if not the best coach in Kansas football history despite his sub-par record.

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Jonathan Allison 12 months 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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Brett McCabe 12 months ago

If he has a good season, the commentators will mention his one high-school blocked kick as often as Fran mentioned Withey's volleyball background.

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 12 months 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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ejayhawk789 12 months ago

Last year we'd have something like a 4th and 8 on the 20 and Weis would keep the offense in. If his nerves are under control, I'm going to assume we'll be much better off than last year. I'll save a seat on the bandwagon for you.

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Jason Keller 12 months ago

Yo, in the press conference, Charlie said he knocks down 50 yarders with ease... How much did you expect out of the juco kickers? We didn't bring a Gramatica... 50 yards is 50 yards, bud. As the other poster states, if his nerves are under control, we are MUCH improved. Do you think Charlie is lying?

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 12 months ago

50 yards with ease.......IN PRACTICE...bud.

This kid doesn't even have real high school experience, let alone D-1 experience.

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rockchalk_dpu 12 months ago

50 yards is still 50 yards. Yes he hasn't done it in a game yet, but I'd rather have that as an option knowing he has the leg to get it there than having to go for it on unreasonably long 4th downs, or punting into the endzone for a net 13 yards.

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NebraskaJayhawk 12 months ago

I think you're wrong on this one, Reuben.

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Dale Stringer 12 months ago

We did and now we have depth at these positions too. Last year we had Doherty and ... that was it. If I remember right, he was hurt early in the season too. He did everything: P, PK & FG. He couldn't take off to ever heal completely because there was no one else. Remember when TG was still here and his punting was one of the few good things we had.

Now we have plenty of punters and kickers. If Wyman or Pardula get hurt, we can bring in a healed Doherty, Mesh, Kahn or Barone. Though I believe the last two are red shirts this year.

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hawk316 12 months 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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Thebigpurn 12 months ago

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

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NebraskaJayhawk 12 months ago

It's just that simple. Git'r done!

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actorman 12 months ago

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

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nuleafjhawk 12 months 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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DanR 12 months 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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Randy Bombardier 12 months ago

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

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Dean Royal 11 months, 4 weeks 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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