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Texas Tech walk-on, Matt Williams Texas Tech
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Texas Tech coach Mike Leach

Texas Tech Contest Winner Kicks Nine Extra Points

October 25, 2008 07:00 PM
by Josh Katz
A Texas Tech student who won a field goal kicking contest made his debut Saturday, making him the most recent walk-on to achieve success.

Walk-on Kicks Nine PATs

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Matt Williams began the year as an average student at Texas Tech. But on Saturday, he took the field for the eighth-ranked Red Raiders football team and kicked nine extra points in a 63-21 rout of the Kansas Jayhawks.

Williams came out of the stands to during halftime of the Sept. 20 Texas Tech-UMass game to participate in a kicking contest and knocked a 30-yard field goal through the uprights. The field goal, called “smooth and beautiful” by Texas Tech assistant athletic director Chris Cook, caught the attention the coaching staff, which was in desperate need of a kicker.

The Red Raiders were 7-0, but had suffered from kicking woes. Two kickers on the team have together missed six extra points and half of the field goals they’ve attempted. The coaching staff decided to offer Williams a position on the team and this week he was ruled eligible to play by the NCAA.

While this situation is unusual, Texas Tech has used non-scholarship kickers before. “We have a tradition of walk-on kickers rising to the top,” Leach said after the UMass game. “[Robert] Treece and [Alex] Trlica both were walk-on kickers that eventually ended up getting to play significantly. We’re always looking for guys. We’re excited to see what [Williams]’s got to offer if he’s interested,” Red Raider Sports reports.
 
But Texas Tech’s walk-on tradition is not as famous as that of their intra-state rivals, Texas A&M. In January 1922, the Aggies were playing the best team in the nation at the time, Centre College. Realizing his team was short-staffed, Texas A&M’s coach Dana X. Bible called basketball player E. King Gill from the stands, who was not suited for the game, to the put on a uniform and stand on the sidelines. Although Gill didn’t play, his dedication to the team made him the Aggie “Twelfth Man,” and an icon.

In the 1980s, Coach Jackie Sherrill revived the tradition with his “Twelfth Man Kick-Off Team,” in which he held open tryouts for his special teams squad. His gamble was successful, as “[t]his 12th Man team performed very well and held opponents to one of the lowest yards per return averages in the league,” according to the Texas A&M Web site.

Background: The atypical coach: Mike Leach

Mike Leach is one of the more interesting coaches in college football. The Texas Tech head coach likes to read as much as he can about a specific topic each off-season, whether it’s “Geronimo, Daniel Boone, whales, chimpanzees, grizzly bears,” or Jackson Pollock, The New York Times writes. He opted for pirates one year, learning that, “a pirate ship was a functional democracy; that pirates disciplined themselves; that, loathed by others, they nevertheless found ways to work together, the pirate ship became a metaphor for his football team.”

He also serves as the offensive coordinator for the team, creating one of the more innovative and explosive offenses in college football. “When you first meet him,” Jarrett Hicks, a junior wide receiver, told The New York Times, “you think he’s an equipment manager.” Leach’s agent Gary O’Hagen expressed a similar sentiment: “He’s so different from every other football coach it’s hard to understand how he’s a coach.”

Related Topics: Steve Aponavicius; Vince Papale

Matt Williams isn’t the only recent college kicker to rise to his position from obscurity. Steve Aponavicius kicked in a football game for the first time in Oct. 2006. Aponavicius played soccer, not football, in high school, and at Boston College he was simply a huge BC Eagles football fan, according to the Boston Globe. But one day he walked onto the field and practiced kicking field goals. Graduate assistant Jay Civetti liked what he saw, asked Williams to try out for the team, and thanks to kicker Ryan Ohliger’s suspension, there was an open spot. Aponavicius, who is known by his teammates as “Sid Vicious,” remains a prominent fixture on the BC team. 

One of the more famous “walk-on” stories comes at the professional level, and was recently turned into the 2006 Disney movie “Invincible,” with Mark Wahlberg. Vince Papale played for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, but the league went under in 1975. He also worked as a bartender and substitute high school teacher. Dick Vermeil, the young coach of the lowly Philadelphia Eagles in the ’70s held an open tryout for some players, and the 30-year-old Papale earned a spot on the team. He became the “oldest rookie to make a team in league history,” USA Today writes, and he would become the Eagles’ special-teams captain.
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