Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kicker Steven Hauschka has figured it out with Seahawks

Steven Hauschka, a former college soccer player, was cut by five NFL teams before the Seahawks picked him up before the 2011 season. Hauschka was not discouraged by those earlier failures and has thrived with the Seahawks

By Bob Condotta

January 15, 2014

Steven Hauschka didn’t start kicking until his sophomore year at a Division III college in Vermont, but has established himself now as one of the NFL’s best.

The Steven Hauschka file
Height: 6 feet 4
Weight: 210
Colleges: Middlebury (Vt.), North Carolina State
Age: 28, born June 29, 1985
Regular season stats: 33 of 35 field goals, 44 of 44 PATs.
Did you know? His point total of 143 this season is second in Seahawks history behind the 168 scored by running back Shaun Alexander in 2005.
RENTON – His Seahawks teammates say Steven Hauschka takes a rather clinical approach to his craft.

Makes sense, considering he spent most of his college years thinking he’d make his living fixing teeth rather than kicking footballs.

His mom and brother are dentists. And during his years at Division III Middlebury (Vt.) College, where he also played soccer, Hauschka assumed dentistry was his destiny, as well.

Hauschka’s path began to change, though, when some of his roommates at Middlebury who were on the football team asked him to try out as their kicker.

Hauschka agreed, saying, “I was kind of getting too slow for soccer.”

That was during his sophomore year.

Flash forward a decade, and the 28-year-old Hauschka is among the best kickers in the NFL. This season, he was an alternate for the Pro Bowl and set a Seahawks record for points in a season by a kicker with 143. He was 3 for 3 on field goals in the wind and rain at CenturyLink Field in Seattle’s divisional playoff win over New Orleans last week.

“He’s had just an incredible season, and he’s been so consistent. Under those conditions — look what happened on their side of the ball,” coach Pete Carroll said, referencing Saints kicker Shayne Graham’s two misses Saturday. “It was a great performance.”

Carroll even coined a term for it — “Hausch Money.”

“When we say ‘Hausch Money,’ you know what we’re talking about,” Carroll said.

Hauschka took a winding road to this point, having never played football at any level until his sophomore year at Middlebury, which has an enrollment of about 2,450. After earning a degree in neuroscience there, he contemplated his future.

With one year of eligibility left, he sat down and compiled a list of roughly 30 schools that had lost their kickers or had struggled in that area the previous year and contacted each one.

Only two responded — North Carolina State and Northwestern.

N.C. State was close and willing to work to get him into school as a walk-on. That fall, as a 22-year-old already holding a four-year degree, he found himself on a dorm floor with every other first-year football player, including a freshman quarterback named Russell Wilson and a freshman lineman named J.R. Sweezy.

“Seventh floor,” recalled Sweezy, now Seattle’s starting right guard. “He was the guy to go to if you had to ask what is there to do, what can we do now. It was our first time being away from our parents and we didn’t really know what to do, so we kind of hung out with him a lot.”

He made 16 of 18 field goals in his lone season at N.C. State, and was named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to college football’s best kicker. The fate of all but the elite of the elite college kickers, though, is to be left fending for an NFL job as a free agent.

He was signed and cut by Minnesota in 2008. He was signed and cut and then re-signed by Baltimore, where he ended up kicking in nine games in 2009. After a few untimely misses, though, he was cut late in the season, which he considers a turning point in his career.

At Minnesota, veteran kicker Ryan Longwell, who played 15 seasons in the NFL, told Hauschka the key to success was being able to treat a game-winning kick on Sunday as no different than a practice attempt on Wednesday. It was after his tenure with the Ravens that he decided to fully buy into that philosophy.

“Those first couple of years, you are just kind of tossed into the fire, it feels like,” he said. “Looking back at it, I wish I had known what I know now, that (the game) is just the same as practice.”

He later had stints with Atlanta, Detroit and Denver before Seattle called him shortly before the 2011 season, seeking a successor to Olindo Mare.

At age 26 and already signed and released by five teams, it all clicked for Hauschka in Seattle.

He made 49 of 57 field goals in 2011 and 2012, but was just 3 of 8 from 50 yards and beyond. So he decided after last season to alter his offseason program to strengthen the core of his body and start kicking earlier in the offseason.

It’s paid off this season. Including the playoffs, he is 36 of 38 on field goals, one of which was blocked at Indianapolis, and 3 of 3 from 50 and beyond, booting overtime game-winners against Houston and Tampa Bay.

He’s also a three-handicap golfer, a sport whose approach Wilson says complements Hauschka’s field-goal kicking.

“He’s very, very technical in everything that he does,” Wilson said. “He’s a perfectionist. He’s had an unbelievable season for us this year, so you expect that out of Steve just because he does everything right.’’

And while his early NFL struggles are a reminder of how tenuous the fate of a kicker can be, Hauschka also says those experiences made him the kicker he is today.

“Ultimately, those things harden you and make you a better kicker,” he said. “You just get better at it each year that you do it.’’

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