PHOENIX – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the winning points in Super Bowl XLIX produced by the foot of Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots’ prolific kicker.
Well, it would be surprising if you knew him in high school. Or even college.
Gostkowski was a three-sport start at Madison (Miss.) Central High School. He says a poor senior season as a kicker cost him a chance at a football scholarship, so he signed with the University of Memphis to play baseball. He was a walk-on for the football team.
“Memphis had a historically bad football program,” Gostkowski said Thursday. “I got lucky. I walk on to the football team and all of a sudden we have players like D’Angelo Williams, and we start winning.
“We were good on offense, so I got a lot of opportunities to kick, and to kick off.”
Gostkowski thought so little of his chances of getting drafted by an NFL team that he insisted on finishing the baseball season instead of preparing himself for the Senior Bowl.
“A week after baseball season ended, I’m at the Senior Bowl, and everyone in the NFL is watching me,” he said. “I actually think it might have been better that way. I felt like I had nothing to lose.”
The Patriots chose him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. Gostkowski has become the most accurate kicker in Patriots history, and holds the NFL record for the highest average points per game scored over a career — 8.67.
He has led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive seasons.
He says high expectations hurt him in high school, and low expectations helped him in college.
How does that translate into kicking well for Patriots coach Bill Belichick and a team that expects championships?
“Well, when you play for a great offense, you’re going to get a lot of chances, and all of those chances are going to help you feel comfortable out there.
“As far as coaching, I learned that Coach Belichick is hard on players for a reason. I feel a lot more pressure during practice than I do during games. You feel his eyes on you when you’re practicing, it’s tough. But I learned over time that there’s a reason for being tough on people at practice.”
Gostkowski’s predecessor, Adam Vinatieri, won two Super Bowls for the Patriots in the final seconds.
“As a kicker, you have no idea what situation you could be in,” he said. “I could be up all night thinking about that last-second kick. It might be a kick in the second quarter that decides the game.”
Either way, the eyes of Belichick, and about a billion other observers, will be upon him Sunday.