In the second quarter of Saturday's game between Michigan State and visiting Notre Dame, the Spartans led 3-0 and the Fighting Irish were facing a fourth-and-three on State's 14-yard line when Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz began looking around for his eraser—not the one at the end of his pencil, but Reginald Thomas Ho, his field goal kicker.
Ho is so diminutive that he's nearly hidden inside the giant hollow of his helmet. At 5'5" and 135 pounds he is one of the smallest players in a major college football program. Nonetheless, he's Holtz's designated eraser, which, by the way, is what Holtz calls all field goal kickers. "He goes in there to erase somebody else's mistakes by trying to get three points on the board," he says. And so far the Irish had made mistakes aplenty against the Spartans. On third-and-three, tailback Mark Green had taken a pitch from quarterback Tony Rice, attempted to sweep around the right side and was tackled for no gain.
So Holtz called for Ho to even the score. As the young man trotted out onto the field with his kicking tee, an already-familiar chant welled up from the Notre Dame cheering section: "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" At the line of scrimmage, Ho went into his curious routine, one as unvarying as the box step. With his back to the line of scrimmage, he pressed the tee firmly in the turf, took two giant steps away from it, then two more off to the right. Turning about, he faced his holder, Pete Graham, stared down at the tee, took one visibly deep breath and nodded. As Graham turned to call for the snap, Ho swept his arms to his right, looking like a bullfighter holding an invisible cape, and began waving his fingers, strumming the air with them, as though he were playing castanets.
At the snap, Ho swept forward, low and hard, and drove the ball high through the uprights 31 yards away. He didn't look up until the ball was well on its way. "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" The chant continued as the players on the field celebrated the three points. Seven minutes later, the chant rose again from the Irish partisans in Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame had blocked a Michigan State punt and recovered the ball on the Spartan seven. On the ensuing three downs the Irish had advanced just two yards, bringing about a fourth-and-five. "Obviously, our goal-line offense leaves a lot to be desired," Holtz said later. So the call went out for the eraser, who kicked a second field goal from 22 yards out to put Notre Dame ahead 6-3. As it turned out, that was all the Irish would need as they went on to whip Michigan State 20-3. For the second week in a row, Ho had stolen the show.
In the Irish season opener the Saturday before, Ho had kicked four field goals—of 31 and 38 yards and two of 26 yards—in Notre Dame's 19-17 victory over Michigan in South Bend. The last of the four, one of the 26-yarders, came with 1:13 left and won the game. That performance in a nationally televised game earned Ho, a 20-year-old senior from the Honolulu suburb of Kaneohe, very sudden celebrity, and fellow students began waving and hollering to him, much to his discomfort. Ho is painfully shy. "Anybody else would have been sitting on top of the dome," Graham said, referring to the Golden Dome, the most recognizable landmark on the Notre Dame campus. "He walks around now with his head down, so people don't say anything to him."
What has happened to Ho over the past couple of weekends would have seemed every bit as unlikely two years ago as sitting on the Golden Dome. Ho had played soccer and lettered twice in football as a placekicker for St. Louis High, but "I never thought I'd play football for a college team," he says. "I didn't think I was good enough."
Then, as a sophomore immersed in premed studies, he began thinking, "Why not?" He decided that living the life of "a geek" was not for him. "You know, a geek is a nerd who studies too much," he says. "I wanted to be more well-rounded. Academics are important, but they're not everything."
Ho walked on at a varsity practice one autumn day in 1986 and informed the coaches that he wanted to kick for the Irish. They told him to come back in the spring. "That's how smart we were," says assistant coach George Stewart, who works with the kickers. When Ho returned in the spring, he kicked well enough to get Holtz's attention, and a year ago he made the Irish roster. He kicked one PAT in 1987, against Navy, but otherwise he spent the season as the standby for starting kicker Ted Gradel, practicing field goals. And practicing. And practicing. Holtz sat down with Gradel last spring before he graduated and said, "You've worked with the other kickers. Tell me about them."
Gradel went down the list. At last he told Holtz, "Reggie Ho works harder than anybody I've seen. He kicks in the rain. He kicks in the snow. Don't sell him short."
Such work habits were nothing new for Ho; he had kicked for hours at a time when he was a high school player. "I remember him kicking outside my window at midnight," says his sister, Gianna. "He'd turn the lights on over the patio and kick into a tarp. Very intense and disciplined." Last spring, during Easter break, Stewart says that he came upon Ho at three o'clock one afternoon kicking balls by himself into a net.