Mention the name Matt Williams to sports fans outside of Lubbock, Texas, and most will think of the retired power-hitting third baseman. In Lubbock, the name conjures memories of a student who started the football season sitting in the stands and midway through the schedule found himself on the field scoring points.
Williams made his debut for Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team in Lawrence on Oct. 25, 2008, when he made all nine extra-point kicks in a 63-21 rout of Kansas.
Leach discovered Williams when he booted a 30-yard field goal at halftime of a game in a fan competition five weeks before the kicker’s debut.
At Notre Dame, Charlie Weis had an assistant coach call David Ruffer in his dorm room to see if he would be interested in trying out for the football team. Ruffer passed a three-day tryout. The year after Weis was fired by Notre Dame, Ruffer was one of the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to college football’s top kicker.
Kansas so desperately needs a kicker that instead of taking what would have been considered a near-sure three points in most programs, Weis opted Saturday for a fake field goal in the first quarter of a scoreless game on fourth and seven from the Oklahoma State 17. A strong wind would have been at the kicker’s back for a 35-yard attempt. Holder Blake Jablonski was stopped five yards short.
Ron Doherty, a better punter than kicker, has been replaced at the top of the kicker depth chart by walk-on Nick Prolago, shaky even on extra points.
A search for a hidden foot among the KU student body has come up a foot short.
“I scoured the campus,” Weis said. “We had a couple of guys who came in, an Australian rules football player and a couple of other guys. So we had them come over, but they couldn’t kick a football. They forget it’s a different ball. There have been multiple guys from Australia who have shown up in the NFL, punting and all that other stuff, but no, we haven’t been that fortunate.”
Williams had spent two years at Tarleton State University in Texas, one as a walk-on kicker, before transferring to Tech. The NCAA granted the Red Raiders an exception to the rule that requires transfers to sit out a year because he had not been on scholarship. The 15 minutes of fame was not without its costs for Williams, who kicked a 49-yard field goal in a high school game. The NCAA did not allow him to collect the year of free rent he won by booting the 30-yarder through the uprights at halftime.
A risk to taking a student kicker who did not have the same college experience Williams gained at Tarleton: The ball is placed on a tee for high school kickers, on the ground in the college game, an adjustment some make better than others.
Not one of the 27,939 students enrolled this fall can give Kansas a legitimate kicking game.
Or could it be he or she just has not yet used that foot to step forward?