Late to the Game: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Late to the Game: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

The lowest point for Longhorn football fans these past two years came, ironically, during a game in which their team’s quarterback set the Texas record for yardage gained from scrimmage, an astonishing 527. Texas had just come back from a 21-point deficit, capped off by a 45-yard rushing TD from newly minted starting quarterback and, by all predictions, future two-time Heisman winner Jerrod Heard.

It meant so much: Heard was the second coming of Vince Young and Charlie Strong’s team could finally hang with non-conference opponents. All senior kicker Nick Rose needed to do was hit an extra point—cake for a kicker who to that point was 42-of-44 on PATs—and this game was likely headed to overtime with Texas holding all the momentum.

And then the floppy-haired Rose shanked it. Here’s that moment when Heard and defensive end Charles Omenihu realized the game was over.

That’s rough. After the game, Heard said, of the kick: “I did watch it, but we still love Nick [Rose],” the quarterback’s heroics were all for naught, and his coming-out party was spoiled.

This all came crashing back to me on the afternoon of April 16 after the truncated Orange & White Scrimmage, a game in which there were no kickoffs, and Texas attempted only one field goal— a badly missed attempt by Mitchell Becker (listed in the media guide as a punter) from 46-yards out. After rain washed out the second half, Strong fielded questions about the kicking game and said he was still searching for a No. 1 kicker.

Rose was, at times, and probably unfairly, a punching bag for Texas fans who were grasping at excuses for mediocre results. The missed extra point, the 66.7 percent FG percentage in 2014, and even his offseason Vine videos were a matter of contention. In fact, as I walked out of DKR following the Cal loss, I heard multiple fans in burnt orange decrying this 80-yard field goal and this (very awesome) backflip extra point from the previous summer as “distractions.” It was as if those moments magically made Rose forget how to bang it through the uprights from inside 20 yards.

Here’s the thing about the kicking game: It’s annoying. It’s unsexy. It’s dull. An extra point is nice because it comes on the heels of a touchdown, but it’s (relatively) automatic and only worth one point, thus it is objectively worse than a two-point conversion. A kickoff either means it’s the beginning of a half and the other team is getting the ball (boo!) or you’ve just scored (nice!). A field goal means your team failed to score its ultimate goal, a touchdown, and had to settle. Most problematic for fans is that you don’t realize how important kicking is until you don’t have a reliable kicker. Kicking is so boring that this paragraph was a grind to even write.

Texas fans have been spoiled with great, even transcendent kickers in its recent past. Rose’s predecessor, Anthony Fera, hit 90 percent of his field goals in his sole full season in Austin after transferring from Penn State. Before Fera was now-Raven’s kicker Justin Tucker, who was 71-for-71 on extra points his junior and senior seasons after spending two years as a punter. I probably don’t have to remind you, dear reader, that he also sent Texas A&M packing for the SEC with a 40-yard bomb as time expired on Thanksgiving in 2011. The icing on top is that he still relishes in that moment. In a 2014 profile from Baltimore Magazine, Tucker said, “Being the guy who put the dagger in [the A&M] rivalry is something I’ll hold close to my heart.”

Even stretching to the pre-Mack Brown era, you’ll find reliable kickers. Phil Dawson, a 49er now entering his 19th season in the NFL, held the trust of John Mackovic enough to lead the Big 12 in FG attempts (and, naturally, makes) in 1996. And Dawson, like Tucker, has a signature moment. In 1995 against No. 14 Virginia, Texas trailed by two with just seconds left. Dawson coolly booted a 30-yarder into swirling winds to win the game.

In the years between Dawson and Rose, the list of Texas kickers with memorable moments is long. Dusty Mangum (excellent name, by the way, and one letter-switch away from Dusty Magnum), a walk-on, won the 2005 Rose Bowl with a field goal against Michigan, which, in a way, propelled the Longhorns into immortality the following year. As legend goes, he got a call from President George W. Bush after the game. His successor, David Pino, is immortalized as a member of the 2005-06 National Championship team. According to the finest source of knowledge in this world, Wikipedia, Brown told kicker Ryan Bailey in a tight game against Nebraska in 2006, “You’re the luckiest guy in the world. You’ve got a chance to be Dusty Mangum on your first kick,” before the walk-on nailed a 22-yard FG to give Texas the lead. Bailey eventually lost his job to Hunter Lawrence, who also had a moment of glory against Nebraska. In one of the most controversial outcomes in Texas history, one second was put back on the clock in the fourth quarter with the Cornhuskers leading 12-10. Lawrence poked the ball just to the right of the left upright from 46-yards out. And just like that, the Longhorns won the Big 12 Championship and were on their way to the National Championship, a game I will not discuss out of mercy for you, dear reader.

A couple months ago, I took a tour of DKR. As we walked around the stadium in frigid weather, the cold wind whipping our faces, we noticed a man in a hoodie kicking field goals. As we reached the south end zone, I got a closer look as the mystery kicker booted some balls through the uprights. I picked one up and tossed it back to him, but noticed its weight and the NFL emblem on the leather. With his hood covering his trademark emo swoop, I couldn’t tell at first, but it was Rose, practicing kicking for an eventual push toward the NFL. On April 30, he made that next step, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.

Rose never got his signature moment at Texas, primarily because the two years in which he was the No. 1 kicker, the Longhorns were 11-14, and, beyond an embarrassing loss in the Texas Bowl to Arkansas in Dec. 14, he never kicked in a truly important game. Rose wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but, unlike every Texas kicker of the last 20 years, he was never put in a position to make his mark.

This upcoming season, Strong will have the most complete roster he’s had since arriving at Texas. Unfortunately for Rose, this potentially spectacular season will fall just one year outside his window as a Longhorn. And with no heir apparent, fans’ complicated relationship with the boy with the complicated haircut continues in his absence.


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