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Calling All Kickers: A walk-on's story of how he tried to answer Michigan's questions at kicker

Max Collins/Daily
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BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published October 6, 2010

It was Sept. 18, a half hour or so after the Wolverines’ close victory over FCS opponent Massachusetts, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was frustrated.

He was frustrated with the game and the close score, his defense and a host of other things. But the problem with his special teams, it was unique.

So Rodriguez made an announcement at the podium — one that many people, on campus and in the building, heard loud and clear.

"Any student out there who's enrolled at the University and is in good academic standing and a good guy and can kick field goals and can kick the ball into the end zone, we'll have another tryout for you,” Rodriguez declared. But his message brought more questions than answers.

For Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons, both redshirt freshman kickers, it seemed to be a warning.

After Gibbons began the season as the starter, he quickly fell out of favor with the coaching staff. He had made only one of four field goal attempts and even had an extra point blocked. Things just weren’t going his way.

Broekhuizen came in against Notre Dame for the first time to kick the final extra point. Following that point after, Broekhuizen took the starting duties, but he missed his only field goal try.

For two games now, the Wolverines haven’t attempted a field goal. And Rodriguez seems to like it that way.

“It’s nice for me,” Rodriguez said last Monday. “I’d rather score touchdowns. Fortunately for me, we’ve been pretty good in the red zone as far as efficiency, getting touchdowns instead of field goals, and we need to do that."

But the day will come, Rodriguez knows, where the team will need the kicker to deliver a victory on the end of his foot.

When Rodriguez spoke with the media at his Monday press conference, he began with a grin. A student had stopped him in the parking lot of the Junge Family Champions Center. He told Rodriguez that he had read what the coach said in the paper that day and asked if he could try out for kicker.

Maybe that kid never made it to the practice field. But it made one thing clear, the kicker position, one of the most dramatic and agonizing in all of sports, which for Michigan had been held by the likes of Jay Feely and Hayden Epstein, was wide open.

**

Troy Clack always thought of himself as more of a wide receiver.

But there was no mistaking that the senior at Swan Valley High School in Saginaw, Michigan was a kicker and a punter — and a pretty good one at that.

In the 2006 regional finals, a night that Clack describes as “mucky and muddy," Clack lined up for a 43-yard field goal with the game basically on the line. With Swan Valley trailing by just one point, a comeback would seem plausible, but the weather had kept the Vikings out of the end zone for much of the day. This was it.

He lined up and put it straight through the uprights to secure the win. Later that season, he was named second team All-State at the kicker position and offered a full ride to local college Saginaw Valley State.

He turned it down. Instead, he opted to go to Michigan, his mother’s alma mater.

“I had kind of abandoned the prospects of playing football,” Clack says. “I came here to be part of the college experience, do straight academics. Michigan was always the school I wanted to go to.”

It was hard to ignore Rodriguez’s first announcement in 2008, though. Rodriguez, having been a walk-on himself at West Virginia, relishes the walk-on program. At Michigan it turned out players like Jordan Kovacs, who has started for the last two years and Kevin Leach, who gets significant playing time at linebacker. Now, there would be a campus-wide tryout in Rodriguez’s first spring with the team.

So Clack decided he would do it. It would at least be a good story to tell, he figured.

Among the masses who turned out for the tryout, Clack says 18 came to try out for the Wolverines’ open kicker spot. The practice began, and after kicking a few balls to get warmed up along with the other kickers, Clack unloaded and nearly made a 55-yard field goal. But it hit the crossbar.

Rodriguez noticed the extraordinarly long kick and approached the young kicker. “Almost had it, son,” he told Clack, who still glows when he tells the story.

He didn’t make the team that year though, and the next year he was forced to miss tryouts because of a previously planned ski trip with a few of his friends.