By Chris Mahr
Placekickers are to football what closers are to baseball. They appear in games for just a fraction of the time, yet it’s upon their shoulders that victory often rests. Kickers that come through in clutch moments are carried off the field. Those that fail to convert, on the other hand, are forced to retreat to the bench and the domain of sympathetic shoulder pats.
It is a high-wire, pressure-packed role that not even quarterbacks can relate with. And for a while, it looked like Stanford’s Jordan Williamson would be just one of the latest at the position to fall victim to its unforgiving nature.
The redshirt sophomore from Austin, TX, first came to the attention of non-Stanford fans following his two crushing misses in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. The first would have delivered a Cardinal victory and sent QB Andrew Luck out a winner in his final collegiate game. The second came in OT and gave the Cowboys an opening to eventually triumph.
“It’s still in my mind, and I think it always will be,” Williamson said prior to the 2012 season for a Sept. 10 Sports Illustrated story devoted to kickers. “But it has to motivate you instead of break you.”
Alas, Williamson’s less-than-stellar season prior to Saturday’s game at Oregon had people wondering if he could ever recover from that January letdown in Glendale, AZ. He went 0-for-3 on FG tries in a tight win over USC and 0-for-2 against Cal. For the season he’s just 13-of-22 (59.1%) on his attempts.
Give Stanford credit for sticking with him. Otherwise the winning points that sent Stanford to a 17–14 shocker over No. 2 Oregon would have come from somewhere other than Williamson’s right foot, if anywhere at all.
When you think about what Stanford football has come to represent, first under Jim Harbaugh and now under successor David Shaw, you think “hard-nosed play” and “steeliness.” That shows up in a game plan premised on being tougher and more physical than its opponents every week.
Williamson’s path to his game-winning 37-yarder is evidence that Stanford’s hard-nosed mentality extends to its kickers as well. As previously mentioned, 2012 has had its share of unnerving misses for Williamson (shoddy snapping has been a contributing factor).
Yet all along, the Stanford brass had faith that Williamson possessed the mental fortitude to turn things around. (Williamson is, after all, majoring in psychology.) And as one can see from the postgame celebrations, Williamson’s coaches and teammates were genuinely hoping he would.
As eighth-ranked Stanford tries to wrap up the Pac-12 North title on Saturday at UCLA, the Cardinal find themselves back in a position where they can make a BCS bowl. Back in a position where Williamson can redeem himself even more with big kicks in another big game and take back a career that had a Lou Groza Award trajectory last fall before a torn groin muscle sidelined him and his troubles began.
Regardless of what happens to the Cardinal the rest of the season, they can know with confidence that they have a kicker who doesn’t fear the high-wire act of pressure placekicking. If anything, Williamson’s boot in Eugene last Saturday showed that he can thrive in it.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Photo Credit: Scott Olmos/US Presswire