- Marissa McClain/Daily
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 3, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Brendan Gibbons stooped, placed the ball on the kicking tee. He stepped back and took a deep breath.
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The redshirt sophomore kicker had just witnessed his counterpart, Virginia Tech kicker Justin Myer, push a field-goal attempt wide to the right in the opening series of overtime in the Sugar Bowl. Gibbons realized he was four plays away from lining up for the game-winning field goal.
So he eyed the ball, made his approach and buried his kick into the practice net behind the Michigan bench. Straight and true. Gibbons picked up his helmet and trotted to the sideline for third down — he only needed one practice kick.
“Felt good,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it.”
This from a kicker who went 1-for-5 last season and was yanked from starting duties. Of course, that’s just the beginning of the story. Gibbons rebounded in the 2011 season to connect on 10 of 14 attempts.
But none was bigger than when he lined up a 37-yarder between the hash marks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the bottom half of overtime.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn’t doubt his kicker. After Myer’s miss, he ran three straight running plays and then looked at Gibbons.
“You ready, Gibb?” he asked.
Gibbons nodded back.
Not everyone felt so ready.
“What's goin’ through my head?” asked Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. “Probably prayers.”
Gibbons admitted that he was a little nervous. But he had the remedy.
It was a trick Hoke taught him. Kicking gets easier when you don’t think about it. Hoke taught him to think about girls instead — brunettes.
Sophomore holder Drew Dileo handled the snap, spun the laces away from Gibbons and set the tip of the ball down on the 27-yard line.
Gibbons took two steps forward and swung his powerful left leg, following through the impact. Straight and true. Gibbons didn’t even watch the kick split the uprights for the 23-20 victory — he could tell from the moment he hit it.
“It’s a complete zero-to-hero moment for him,” said redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. “He knew he was going to make that kick. I knew he was going to make that kick.”
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knew Gibbons had it in him since he first saw him kick in spring camp in Ann Arbor.
“Gibby, the first day I got here and saw him kicking, I heard his track record and said, ‘No way. This guy’s a good kicker,’ ” Mattison said.
“I knew he was going to make it. That’s what we do here.”
Even fifth-year senior safety Troy Woolfolk couldn’t help but smile at the mention of Gibbons’s turnaround.
“I’m glad you asked about that,” Woolfolk said.
He had something to get off his chest.
Last season, after backup kicker Seth Broekhuizen missed a kick to put Michigan at 1-for-5 on the season, Woolfolk — then out with an ankle injury — sent out a tweet that read: “Kickers wanted.”
The tweet no longer exists. No longer does Michigan’s need for a competent kicker.
“Gibbons really put my foot in my mouth,” Woolfolk said. “I won’t doubt a Michigan Man again.
“When he went up there tonight I knew he was going to make it. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Gibbons’s three field goals proved crucial in a game in which the offense mustered just 184 yards — fewer yards than the Hokie offense accumulated in the first half alone.
But that just might make sense. Because just like the resurgent Wolverines had the odds stacked against them, so did Gibbons.
“Brendan’s a microcosm of this team — he proved everyone wrong,” said junior defensive end Craig Roh.
It just took time. Time and brunettes.