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Jackson graduate Ressel begins final season with Mizzou
Grant Ressel admits that his ascent from unheralded walk-on fighting for a roster spot to one of college football's elite kickers sometimes is hard to believe.
But the fact the former Jackson High School standout never stopped believing and kept working is a big part of what has made this real-life fairy tale come true.
"A little bit [hard to believe], I guess, going from not being on the team to being a starter," said Ressel, a University of Missouri senior. "But I put in a lot of hard work, and it's paid off."
Ressel enters his final collegiate campaign -- the Tigers began preseason camp Thursday -- already having stamped himself among the top kickers in MU history and the nation's current best.
"I'm ready for it to get going. I'm tired of waiting," Ressel said during a telephone interview earlier this week. "I'm excited for the season."
Ressel originally came to Columbia, Mo., with no guarantee of making the MU squad.
But Ressel, a 2007 Jackson High School graduate, always dreamed of one day suiting up for the Tigers. So he stuck with his decision to attend the state's flagship university.
Ressel was a standout kicker at Jackson. No major programs approached him following his prep career, although he did have an opportunity to play for several smaller schools, including Southeast Missouri State and some Division II programs.
But Ressel, who was born in Columbia before moving to Jackson at age 3, had his sights set on playing for the Tigers.
His older brother went to Mizzou and Grant attended Tigers football and basketball games, building his desire to attend the university.
Ressel sent game video of himself kicking for Jackson to MU coaches and tried to get word out any way he could that he wanted to play for the Tigers.
"I called the [football] office. I bugged them a lot," Ressel said.
Finally a visit
Ressel finally received a visit from an MU coach late during his senior year of high school. The coach was in the area recruiting and had a trip scheduled to Jackson.
Ressel said he talked to the coach briefly that day but still had no guarantee of being on the team.
Undaunted, Ressel tried out for the squad that first year in 2007 but was rebuffed during the fall.
Still undaunted, Ressel came back to try out in the spring. He was able to participate in spring practice and became a member of the team in 2008. He suited up for all the home games but only traveled twice, to the Illinois contest in St. Louis and the Alamo Bowl against Northwestern.
Ressel got into one game during that 2008 season -- ironically against Southeast during the Tigers' 52-3 romp in Week 2. He got off a 43-yard punt late in the contest.
The MU kicking job became wide open after standout Jeff Wolfert completed his eligibility in 2008. That's when Ressel's belief and hard work began to pay major dividends.
Ressel emerged from a tight three-man battle to replace Wolfert in 2009. The job has been his ever since.
Ressel's meteoric rise occurred n 2009 when he went from a player virtually nobody across the country had heard of to first-team All-American.
Ressel ended the year making a combined 65 of 66 total kicks -- 26 of 27 field goals and 39 of 39 extra points. His 98.5-percent success rate set an NCAA single-season record for best combined kick accuracy.
Among Ressel's field goals during that breakthrough season was a 27-yard game-winner as time expired to beat bitter rival Kansas 41-39. His fourth and final field goal of the game resulted in him being hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates.
"It was pretty strange," Ressel said. "It was my first game-winning kick and the first time I had been carried off."
Ressel barely slowed down last year, making 17 of 19 field goals, including a career-best 50-yarder, and 45 of 47 extra points.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Ressel has 213 career points to rank sixth in school history. He could become just the second 300-point scorer ever at MU (the record is 362 by Wolfert from 2006 through 2008).
"I got a chance and I just had to take advantage of it," Ressel said.
Ressel said perseverance and work ethic were key factors to winning the MU job.
"I was really kicking pretty good when I tried out," he said. "I just had to wait for my opportunity."
Ressel has been named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding kicker. He has been a Groza semifinalist the last two years.
"I don't really pay too much attention to all that stuff," said Ressel, first-team all-Big 12 Conference in 2009 and a consensus preseason first-team all-Big 12 pick for this year. "I just try to focus on football."
Ressel's focus on football could lead him to the NFL, which he acknowledges is a possibility and a goal.
"I want to be able to do it, but I'll just have to see how this year plays out," said Ressel, who long ago shed his walk-on status.
Even if the NFL doesn't work out, Ressel's scholastic achievements should open other career paths.
Ressel already has been a two-time first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection. The biological sciences major received his degree in May and will be a graduate student this year. He is applying to dental schools with the plan of being a dentist.
But Ressel's primary focus this summer has been to keep working hard and to keep improving so he and the Tigers can enjoy continued success. He's concentrated on kickoffs in an attempt to win that job, too.
"We've worked harder than we ever have. We had a great summer and we're ready to do big things," said Ressel, who spent most of the summer in Columbia training with his teammates. "I want to have my best season yet."