Fiesta Bowl kickers yearn for a chance to make a differencePosted: Wednesday January 01, 2003 10:58 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Todd Sievers has been there. He's walked in Mike Nugent's cleats. Just last year, in fact.
Sievers remembers it all. The look of the ball on the turf. The confidence walking onto the field. How everything seemed to fall neatly into place. It was a dream season, last year was, a season that ended in national honors for Sievers and a national championship for his Miami team.
Nugent, Ohio State's sophomore kicker, can only hope that his dream season turns out that well.
There's a lot of talk in this year's Fiesta Bowl about Miami's impressive offense and Ohio State's impressive defense. Ken Dorsey and Maurice Clarett and Andre Johnson and two-way sensation Chris Gamble are getting a lot of attention. Coaches Jim Tressel and Larry Coker are front and center.
But the two kickers in this game, Miami's Sievers and Ohio State's Nugent, could have a say in this thing before it's over, too.
"I think this is going to be a pretty tough defensive game," Nugent says hopefully. "If our defense steps it up like I think they will, and their defense steps up like I think they will, hopefully we can get it close enough to get a field goal."
Nugent comes into the Fiesta Bowl hotter than any kicker in the country. He made 24 of his 26 field goal attempts this season, better than 92 percent, and popped through a school-record 23 straight at one point. He set seven school records, in fact, and was named first-team All-America.
It all came out of nowhere. Last season, as a wide-eyed freshman, he made just seven of his 14 attempts.
"Last year, I would almost hope we would score [so he wouldn't have to kick a field goal]," Nugent says now. "This year, I'm just hoping we don't get a sack that takes us out of field goal range so I can get a field goal.
"That's the thing about kicking," Nugent says. "You have to handle so much adversity. You can be The Man, or you can be nobody."
Tell Sievers about it. He made 21 of his 26 attempts in 2001 in connecting on almost two field goals a game, the best mark in the country. He nailed a 37-yarder in the Rose Bowl in Miami's 37-14 win over Nebraska for the national championship. He was named All-America.
This year, in large part because of his team's awesome offense, he attempted only 20 field goals. He made only 12, which on the surface looks like some major backsliding. But of his eight misses, three were from more than 50 yards out. Another was from 48, and another from 45. Inside 40 yards, he was a respectable eight for 10.
It wasn't a bad season by a long shot, especially considering Sievers' booming kickoffs play a huge part in keeping Miami's opponents pinned back. But even Sievers can't help but notice the kind of reversal of fortunes that he and Nugent have gone through.
"He's had a heck of a year. He's had the season this year that I did last year," Sievers says of his counterpart. "But that's just the life of a kicker. I know how he's feeling, what he's doing."
What Nugent is doing is having a blast. No one expected him to do this well, just as no one expected Ohio State to be playing for the national championship.
But here they both are.
"Last year and this year are definitely different. I'm the same guy off the field that I was, but there's definitely a different level of respect when you do well on the field," Nugent says. "Guys get a lot more social with you. They joke around with you when you make field goals."
For the role reversal to be truly complete between Sievers and Nugent, Ohio State has to pull a major upset Friday night, giving Nugent the title that Sievers and Miami won during a dream season last year. It's something that Nugent has allowed himself to think about.
But Sievers is keeping his hopes alive for back-to-back dream seasons and back-to-back titles -- whether he gets a chance to kick a game-winner or not.
"No question," Sievers says. "I'll take winning over a field goal any day."