|The 'Cats kicking corp has been a huge weapon for Linfield in 2014.|
Think back to Kyle Brotzman of Boise State, missing two late-game field goal attempts in 2010 against Nevada Wolf Pack resulting in a Broncos loss. Or, more recently, in 2013 when Adam Griffith of nationally ranked Alabama missed a 57-yard field goal only to have Auburn’s Chris Davis run back 109-yard touchdown to win the game. Neither kicker’s team had the chance to play for a national championship that year.
Moral of the story: It takes a lot more than a good foot to be a kicker.
“You need to have a tough skin, no one really likes kickers,” said Cayman Conley, a sophomore kicker for the Wildcats. “It’s one of those positions that if you make it people like you, but if you miss, they don’t.”
“Linfield has a lot of pride in the special team’s play,” said sophomore Kevin McClean. “You have to be able to put in the work and handle the pressure.”
Every athlete understands the pressure of their sport. Whether it’s making a free throw, shooting a penalty kick, striking out the final batter or catching that Hail Mary. Pressure makes an athlete; and mastering that pressure makes a champion.
“It takes confidence to be a Linfield kicker,” said junior Michael Metter.
“Special teams is taken very seriously here,” said sophomore Theo Petropoulos. “We make a huge impact on the game and you need to be committed to help the team in any way you can, whether it’s warming up, spotting the ball for offense or helping Mack with equipment.”
Thanks to the Cat’s lethal offense, kickers at Linfield don’t get as many opportunities as they would in other programs for field goals or punting on fourth downs; meaning they need to make every play count and lean on one another when things go wrong.
“When someone gets down and makes a bad play, it doesn’t linger long at all because he knows there is a whole team behind him picking him up,” said McClean. “Our culture and our pillars help us come together and play for one another.”
Conley, McClean, Metter and Petropoulos bring a diverse background to the Cats special team with Metter and McClean hailing from Oregon (Portland and Beaverton, respectively), Petropoulos from Cheney, Wash. and Conley from Honolulu, Hawaii.
Luckily for the Cats, they all ended up at Linfield for different reasons. Conley wanted to try something new by coming to Oregon while Metter and McClean wanted to be a part of the Linfield legacy.
“I knew Linfield had a good football team that would challenge me to be better,” said Metter.
“I chose Linfield because I knew they had a tradition of winning,” said McClean. “I saw how close the team was and the level of character the guys had when I visited. I came because I want to win a national championship, just like everyone else that comes here.”
As for Petropoulos, purple and red runs in the family.
“Both of my parents attended Linfield,” said Petropoulos. “When I visited the school I loved the campus, and I really liked the coaches and players I met. I wanted to play football in college, and to play for such an elite program is an unbelievable opportunity.”
In order to get to that coveted national championship game, Linfield needs to walk away with a win this weekend. The Cats are playing Pacific who, despite two preseason losses, is undefeated in conference play.
“Pacific is a good team so we have to work hard,” said Metter. “We need to win so we can have another week with our teammates in the playoffs.”
“This weekend’s game is the biggest one of the year by far,” said McClean. “We are fighting for our playoff future from week to week and for us to achieve our one goal of a national championship, we need to perform every game.”
Performance week in and week out is crucial. Although Stephen Hauschka missed only two field goals last year, he was still the highest scorer for the Seahawks, and look where he ended up: with a ring.
“I think I speak for the whole team when I say that we are all ready to show the conference and the nation that we are a powerhouse school that should never be counted out, that we have the potential to be the best team in the Nation” said McClean.
“We want to win,” said Conley. “We kind of have to win so we can stay in this thing for a little bit longer.”
This game may come down to a last minute field goal to win it. And if that’s the case, who knows, everyone might really love kickers.