Rams kicker Zuerlein is no surprise to coaches

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri Western was a must stop for NFL special teams coaches this spring. Everyone wanted a close look at the kicker who made 21 field goals in a row, nine of them from 50 yards or beyond.

The Vikings put Greg Zuerlein high on their shopping list. The Texans, made the trip to St. Joseph, Mo., too. Rams special teams coach John Fassel showed up twice.

It's no surprise to his college coaches that Zuerlein has made the jump from Division II to the pros with panache.

Jay White, the kicking coach at Missouri Western, moonlights on the sidelines at Kansas City Chiefs home games. He predicted the kid who hit the occasional 70-yarder in warmups and has enough power to make a 50-yarder with a one-step approach would fit right in.

"Last year, I would be on the field at Arrowhead Stadium around the kickers and say, ‘My guy yesterday did a better job,'" White said. "When Greg hits the ball, you can hear it. Feel it, too."

Missouri Western coach Jerry Partridge thought the only kicker anywhere that was better last year was the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski.

"Look now," Partridge said. "Who's better?"

Zuerlein broke the Rams franchise record with a 58-yarder in the first quarter Sunday against the Seahawks, then topped it with a 60-yarder in the second half. He's perfect on 12 field goal attempts for St. Louis (2-2), and he's the first player in NFL history to make a 60-yard field goal and a 50-plus yarder in the same game.

After beating the Seahawks without an offensive touchdown but with four field goals from Zuerlein plus a fake field goal for a TD pass, running back Steven Jackson proclaimed Zuerlein the Rams' MVP.

Quarterback Sam Bradford said this is the first time he's been on a team where the kicker is the most popular player. He was shocked when the Rams called for the 60-yarder, just three yards shy of the NFL record.

"I was like ‘What?'" Bradford said. "But sure enough, he's been awesome."

Zuerlein's plenty confident lining up kicks and has no concerns about playing in prime time Thursday night against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.

"Honestly, it's going to feel the same as any other game. It doesn't matter how many people are watching."

The 24-year-old Zuerlein opted for hometown Nebraska-Omaha out of high school when the best offer he could get from Division I schools was the opportunity to walk on. He finished his college career at Missouri Western after Nebraska-Omaha dropped football.

Missouri Western is the Chiefs' training camp home and has top-notch facilities including what coaches tout as one of the best indoor facilities in the country bar none.

Partridge said Zuerlein was working at a Buffalo Wild Wings when he called offering a scholarship.

"He wasn't like ridiculous at Nebraska-Omaha, like he is right now," Partridge said. "He did a great job for us."

Zuerlein nailed a 58-yarder with distance to spare at Missouri Western while going 9 for 9 from 50 and beyond.

"Every one of his kicks was like that," Partridge said. "There was never a crossbar-scraper. It was amazing."

The only question was which team would get him.

"I think the Vikings were real interested," Patridge said. "The Texans liked him a lot. Oh, they loved him."

Fassel loved him, too. St. Louis finally pounced in the sixth round, clearing the way for Zuerlein by releasing veteran kicker Josh Brown.

"His leg speed is incredible," Fassel said. "One of the best things about him is he gets the ball up fast. I mean, that thing gets up fast and the distance is there.

"He's got a chance to be pretty good."

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