Forty-seven yards doesn’t seem that long. Some athletes can run that length in less than five seconds. But to USC kicker Andre Heidari, who watched his 47-yard kick creep over the uprights in last week’s game against Utah, the distance felt like an eternity.
“I was kind of nervous because I hit it and I looked up and [holder Matt] Barkley was still looking at the ball going through the uprights and I thought it was short,” Heidari said. “But it was good. So I mean it’s just a relief after.”
Comparing himself to a golfer, Heidari said he watches his ball soar through the air and hopes some telepathic mind-control will put it in the right place.
“You’re just talking to the ball [as] if you want it to do something. I just yell at it. That’s basically how it goes.
“Just seeing the ball go through the uprights like that in front of fans and they go crazy… it’s fun.”
Heidari knows football fans can be crazy. That reason-- the hype, excitement and pressure-- was why he stopped playing soccer and joined the football team his freshman year of high school.
Like a quarterback's performance, fans can get emotional over a how a kicker, well, kicks. But unlike the signalcaller, fans don’t usually notice the special teams’ leader until he makes an error.
Take Joe Houston, the Trojans’ kicker last season, for example. As the season continued, fans whispered about Houston’s abilities. By the end of 2010, if USC was a school in the South and not laidback Southern California, Houston’s face would have been plastered on ‘wanted’ posters. In 2010, Houston lacked accuracy, consistency and confidence.
Against the Washington schools, Houston couldn’t convert his field goal attempts, including a critical miss versus Washington in the Coliseum that, if made, could have given the Trojans a win. Earlier in the season, Houston missed field goals in both the Minnesota and Virginia games. A month later, he couldn’t convert two short-range kicks against Arizona State.
But when a kick is good, like Heidari’s 47-yarder Saturday, and the kicker helps a team win the game, they become a hero. When the score is tight, and those three points are added to the board, your team celebrates you.
“I’m trying to just put everything into the team so when I get out there on the field I can make a 100 percent decision to just put it through the uprights to help my teammates out,” Heidari said.
USC’s kicking situation became so serious the coaches decided to utilize one of its prized scholarships to bring a guy with a strong leg onboard. Heidari, a true freshman who enrolled in the spring, has been knocking in deep balls through the uprights all fall camp. And through two games, he has made that field goal in the Utah game and converted on all three of his PATs.
But Heidari didn’t just come onto the field without a weight on his shoulder—or leg. He arrived at the school with knowledge of the previous season’s kicking history. And Heidari felt the expectations right away.
“Earlier on when I got here in the spring I was feeling a little pressure just because of like the reports and everything,” he said. “But I think I’ve been out here doing a good job, I’m trying to do a good job for the team and I think we’re coming together well so it’s going to be a good season.”
“Well we don’t have much experience there with the kicker, with him being a true freshman,” Lane Kiffin said. “But you do feel better because he has a stronger leg [than Houston] and so even in practice when he misses it, for the most part, he’s missing it with length.
“So you feel better than the ball squibbing around [like last season]. So we feel good about where he’s at right now and especially since he made the second [field goal in the Utah game] even though there was a false start [penalty].”
Despite not being in the everyday catching or tackling business, Heidari said he does an hour of cardio daily and is on the same lifting schedule as many of his teammates. He knows it’s important to stay in shape to be ready for whatever comes his way.
But more important than staying fit, Heidari knows he really just needs to kick well.
“Playing the role of the kicker is a big part of the game, just like they say special teams is a third of the game with offense and defense,” Heidari said. “ So it’s fun just going out there and after you do your thing all the guys say 'good job and well done.’”
If Heidari can continue his solid kicking record, and he can help put the Trojans over the edge when games are tight, his teammates won't be the only ones saying 'a job well done.'
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