Kansas kicker overcomes odds
Jayhawks turn to unlikely source for field goals
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Matthew Wyman already doesn't remember the first field goal he ever made, even though it was a 45-yarder in Kansas' season-opening victory against South Dakota just a couple weeks ago.
He does remember the first field goal he ever tried, one he'd rather forget.
Wyman didn't expect to attempt the kick, especially considering the circumstances. He was a senior at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and although he handled the kickoff and punting duties, he'd never attempted a field goal in a game.
But his team needed only three points for a victory, and instead of letting the quarterback attempt a desperation throw to the end zone, Wyman was summoned for a 50-yard field goal. Maybe the Hail Mary would have been a better idea.
"I had never practiced a live-snap field goal," Wyman recalled. "I just ran out there and tried kicking it and it got blocked."
An inauspicious start, perhaps, but his Division I kicking career is under way.
Wyman is now the Jayhawks' starting kicker, and while it might be surprising that coach Charlie Weis trusts a former soccer player who was cut from tryouts last season, the kicking game in Lawrence hasn't been in a position to be picky lately.
The field goal Wyman converted against South Dakota was the Jayhawks' longest since Jacob Branstetter's 46-yarder against Kansas State in 2009. Last year's kicker, Ron Doherty, made only five of 10 kicks and now is a backup. The other kicker, Nick Prolago, is no longer on the team.
So maybe it isn't so far-fetched for Wyman to be handling all this. Kansas hosts Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
"He was running the fourth kicker, then he was the third kicker, then he was the second kicker, then he was the first kicker and he hasn't looked back," Weis said. "He hasn't turned back and that wasn't a name anyone was asking about, and we weren't telling.
"This kid won the competition," Weis said, "and it wasn't even close."
Wyman, a redshirt freshman, actually failed to make the team on his first try — he was cut in the spring when he tried out for Weis' first team at Kansas. But assistant coach Scott Vestal told him to try again, and even though Wyman hadn't kicked much over the course of the school year, he spent about a week getting ready for the tryout.
After he converted 14 of 15 attempts, Wyman had a spot on the team.
Kicking in practice is different than kicking in a game, though, and the early going has produced mixed results. Wyman's field goal against South Dakota sparked a serious celebration from the Jayhawks' sideline, but he also missed a 47-yard attempt last Saturday in a loss to Rice.
Kicking isn't new to Wyman, but it wasn't always a football. He joined a traveling soccer team when he was 8 years old, and that was his sport of choice growing up.
But during his senior year of high school, his friends on the football team alerted the head coach about Wyman's kicking ability. Needing a kicker, the coach convinced Wyman to join the team, and he found he enjoyed it more than soccer.
"I don't know if they compare that much," Wyman said. "If you can kick a soccer ball far you can kick a football far. Then it comes in with accuracy, you've got to put it in two posts. Soccer, there's more leeway. But it gave me kicking form, I guess."
Wyman estimated his range at 55 yards with the wind, and said he and fellow kicker Trevor Pardula hit from over 60 in practice. Wyman can't say what he's thinking when he lines up a field goal attempt, though, because not even he knows.
After all, he hasn't been doing it for very long.
"Most of the time when I'm kicking, I black out, I don't even remember," Wyman said. "Right when the ball's snapped, that's about when I stop remembering stuff."