January 29, 2014

Midd Goes to the Super Bowl

More news about: Middlebury

Super Bowl Media Day is an event that needs to be experienced to be believed. Hundreds of sports journalists, television personalities, and camera crews swarm, first to the tables topped with pastries, then to the players entering the arena. Out comes Richard Sherman, sardonically taking pictures of the media members flashing him with strobes; out comes quarterback Russell Wilson, all 5'10 and ¾'' of him calm, cool, and collected; out comes head coach Pete Carroll, a jovial smile permanently fixed on his face. Behind them—and out of the glare from the jostling horde—is Seahawks' kicker Steven Hauschka '07.

Hauschka doesn't have a booth to sit in or microphone to talk through or even a Gatorade to help promote the Super Bowl's corporate sponsors. In fact, if he wasn't dressed in Seattle's team-issued sweats he would pass for any of the media members—well, maybe not the team from Entertainment Tonight—or fans in attendance.

Standing off in a back corner, the 6'4'' Needham, Massachusetts, native answers questions from the Wall Street Journal (about where he has spent his time in Manhattan) and the New York Times  ("would you rather play one Bronco-sized duck or fifty duck-sized Broncos?"), generously engaging in these reporters' shticks.

And it turns out that Hauschka spent the previous night at dinner with friends from Middlebury—a point for the Wall Street Journal.

"We went to dinner in Union Square, it was a great time," he said. "It almost feels like you're getting married—everyone wants to be there and share this special time with you."

For the 28-year old, kicking in the Super Bowl would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Haushcka's kicking career began unceremoniously; the former junior varsity soccer player missed three of his first four career attempts as a Middlebury Panther.

"I didn't really know what I was doing," he said before adding, "I don't remember that! I thought I made every kick I had at Middlebury."

By the time his Panther career had ended, Hauschka seemingly had made every kick, rewriting the team's record books and awing fans and his coaches alike with his accuracy and leg, booming kickoffs that often sailed through the uprights—75 yards away.

Division I teams began to take notice. With a year of football eligibility remaining, Hauschka played his final season at North Carolina State, where he was teammates with current Seahawks J.R. Sweezy and Wilson.

"He came in and could kick the ball for days, which was something that I had never seen before," said Sweezy, who was a redshirt freshman at NC State when Hauschka arrived in the fall of 2007. "It was kind of cool knowing we had a good field goal kicker—he won a couple of big games for us."

Hauschka had a game-winning kick on the road against Miami and was a finalist for the Lou Groza award, which recognizes the best placekicker in college football. But a career in the NFL was far from guaranteed. Hauschka was cut by five different teams, including John Fox's Denver Broncos, and played for a stint in the United Football League, before catching on in Seattle. This year, in his third season with the Seahawks, Hauschka made 33 of 35 attempts as the second-most-accurate kicker in the NFL.

Jon Ryan, who holds for Hauschka in addition to his duties as a punter, said that Hauschka's consistency is what distinguishes him from other kickers.

"He's a real thinking-type guy, watches a lot of film and has become very consistent in all of his routines," Ryan said. "That's the most important part of punting and kicking, finding that consistency. He's had one of the best seasons I've ever seen a kicker have, to be honest with you."

Special teams coach Brian Schneider believes Hauschka's off-the-field preparation creates that consistency.

 "Throughout the week what he does to get ready for a game is really something," he said. "He's too smart for me, that's for sure."

Nor does it hurt that Hauschka studied neuroscience at Middlebury, which he said has "helped him with the mental side of the game."

But what of the pressure involved in kicking in front of 68,000 people, as he did in the Seahawks' NFC Championship victory?

"The kicking is different," he admitted. "[At Middlebury I] only kicked in front of 2,000 people at any one time."

On the other hand, if Sunday's Super Bowl forecast calls for snow, Hauschka's experience kicking in Vermont, and around the NESCAC, may give him the upper hand.

"We kicked on some of the worst fields in the country—especially some of those grass fields when they got a lot of rain," he said. "So that prepared me for some of the bad conditions that I would see in the NFL."

A few minutes later, Dieon Sanders walks over to interview Hauschka for the NFL Network. As Sanders walks away, Middlebury Magazine editor Matt Jennings asks him whether Hauschka will make a game-winning field goal if that's what the game boils down to. Without hesitating, Sanders nods and says, "Oh, yes. He'll make it. That's for sure."

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