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Erxleben, whose father is the postmaster in Seguin, Texas, was a much-sought-after quarterback as well as kicker. In his freshman season at Texas he almost transferred to Baylor because he wasn't being tried at quarterback or tight end (he's 6'4", 218 pounds). "I didn't know you just kicked," he says. "Sure, I'd seen guys kick in college, but I just figured they played somewhere else, too.
"The first part of my freshman year I missed extra points, missed field goals, and it was terrible. My punting was all right. About halfway through the season I was leading the nation in punting [47.1 yards], but of my last 22 punts, 20 of 'em were into the wind. My average just dipped [down to 41.4].
"Sportswriters were always saying. ' Texas' field-goal kicking presents problems.' Then we played Oklahoma and I think that was the turning point. I made a 43-yarder into an ungodly wind, and when I made that, I just saw the light."
This is how strong his oak of a right leg is. Last year on a field-goal attempt against SMU, the center snap was low and the holder bobbled the ball a bit before getting it on the tee. Erxleben had already started his approach, had to stop, then just swung the leg when the ball was ready. Good—from 57 yards away.
"Russell has so much raw power and strength, it's unbelievable," says his buddy Franklin.
Franklin, at not quite 5'9" and "pushing it to get to 170," is the smallest of the three, but he is a compact package of muscle and confidence. Every summer he leads off and plays center field for a fast-pitch softball team, and he is a good enough golfer to have broken 70. As a freshman halfback at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth he gained more than 1,500 yards rushing, but his scatback career ended when he tore ligaments in his left ankle and it was in a cast for six weeks.
"My sophomore year I still couldn't run, and the kicker was having a hard time, so I just started kicking," he says. "My junior and senior years I played flanker and free safety, punted and kicked off and kicked extra points and field goals."
When he was a sophomore Franklin kicked a city-record 51-yard field goal. The record was broken two years later with a 52-yarder by the star kicker at rival Eastern Hills High School, a German immigrant named Uwe von Schamann, who now is Oklahoma's field-goal specialist.
" Von Schamann didn't kick anything farther than that during the year, and I didn't either," says Franklin. "Then in the playoffs our teams met. On the fourth play of the game I twisted my right ankle and kept it in an ice bucket. Right before halftime the coach said, 'Well, it's fourth down and we've got a little wind, you want to try it?' I said, 'Yes, sir, it's probably the last time I'll have a chance to get my record back.' "
With a sore ankle, Franklin went out and kicked a field goal from 58 yards, not only surpassing von Schamann but setting a state record as well. The Texas high school field-goal record is now 62 yards, held by Russell Wheatley from Odessa. "Tony could have kicked 60-yarders in high school," says one of the coaches at Arlington Heights. "Every Thursday at the end of workouts we'd finish up with field goals, and Tony would kick 50-and 60-yarders. It really gave the team a big lift to see the ball go through."