For Bearkats, two seasoned feet ready to lend a hand in FCS championship game
Last Updated - January 4, 2013 12:32 GMT
FRISCO, Texas — Sam Houston State, like all colleges, looks to get a leg up on the competition – facilities, dietary, other little things that, cumulatively, add up to make a big difference.
Like kicking and punting.
The Bearkats have weapons on both sides of the ball when it comes to putting foot to leather.
Kicker Miguel Antonio and punter Matt Foster are among the best the FCS has to offer. Antonio is 18-for-22 in field-goal attempts; Foster, who transferred from Purdue before the 2010 season, is averaging 43.2 yards per punt.
Antonio, an All-Southland choice, has converted 72 consecutive point-after attempts. His only miss this season was his first PAT attempt in the opener on Sept. 8 against Incarnate Word. To boot, he kicked game-deciding field goals against Cal Poly and Eastern Washington in the playoffs.
And the hero-making kicks came off the toe of his shiny highlighter-orange and black with yellow stripes cleats. “Everyone was giving me stuff about them. My mom actually picked them out,” Antonio said. “I was going to wear purple [cleats] but coach told me, ‘You might want to change your shoes because that’s the color of SFA — and we don’t like SFA.’
“As long as the ball goes through the uprights, I don’t care what they look like.”
But even after the emotional high of the big-moment kicks in the playoffs, Antonio was quick to note he’s just doing his part to help the team succeed. “If you kick the winning field goal, the next week it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to make it. I can enjoy it, I’m going to give a smile, but you can’t go too crazy.
“For us, kickers don’t get a lot of chances. If you make it, everyone is going to love you. If you miss it, everyone’s going to hate you.”
Foster, the “Punter from Down Under,” is 26 – the oldest player on SHSU’s roster – and in three seasons has placed 64 kicks inside the 20, including 19 this year.
However, despite his on-field success Foster was deadpan with a self-deprecating comment — as he explained when asked why he wasn’t the holder on kicks, unlike many other punters: “I can hold, but the thing is I’d rather be crappy at one thing than two things. So I’d rather just be crappy at punting.”
Foster is serious when it comes to doing his part to help ensure the Bearkats’ success. “You’re only as good as your last kick,” he said. “We’re more worried about the guys on the team because they are the ones we have to deal with everyday. Those are our mates.
“I get really, really, really pissed off at myself because you [punt] so much that you know you shouldn’t have [shanked the ball]. But you need to have a short memory because you get back out there pretty quickly.
“The SFA game this year,” Foster said, “I shanked my first one really badly and for the rest of the game I punted really [well] and was actually named the special teams player of the week for the Southland Conference – even with the shank. I still averaged 45 [yards].”
Between Antonio and Foster there is a friendly give-and-take. When either is about to get on the field, they do their part to offer encouragement that only a special teams player can appreciate.
As Foster recalled telling Antonio before a recent kick, “I told him that if he makes this kick, I’ll give him a shot of apple juice afterward.”
For Antonio’s part, he takes it in stride. “We’ll say that if you make this, I’ll buy you this … dinners, Coca-Cola. It’s been working.
“I think the worst-case scenario is when you start to think about [the kick]. Because then you start to think about the snap, the hold, the kick … you need to forget about everything and forget about them,” Antonio said.
“It happened to me my sophomore year against Northwestern State; I missed a game-winning kick and it felt bad. When I went out there [against Eastern Washington] I knew it wasn’t going to happen again. So now I just focus on the ball – just on the ball.”
And if you believe in karma (as if SHSU needs any additional motivation): Saturday is the fourth rematch in FCS championship history. In each of those title games, the team that lost the previous year turned the tables. If that’s the case on Saturday, there’s a good chance Antonio and Foster will have a foot in the outcome.