By Perry Lefko
The job of a field-goal kicker is perhaps the toughest in the Canadian Football League, and perhaps even the most misunderstood.
It means working out in isolation while the rest of the team is working on the plays that will be executed during a game. If a play fails, there will be many more to repeat. If a player misses an assignment, he has a chance to do a makeover, perhaps even on the next play.
But the kicker’s role is essentially to go into the game at any point and kick it through the uprights. There are rarely do-overs.
There’s been some interesting stories involving kickers this year. B.C.’s Ty Long kicked a walk-off, game-winning field goal against Winnipeg in Travis Lulay’s first game back as a starting quarterback in 11 months. Ottawa rookie Lewis Ward scored all of the Redblacks’ 21 points in a win against Hamilton last week. But it was also a tough week for Toronto’s Ronnie Pfeffer, who has been going through some struggles this year and suffered an injury in a loss to Winnipeg. Hamilton’s Liram Hajrullahu and Montreal’s Boris Bede also had some misses in games.
I mentioned all of this to Brett Lauther, who is in his third stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders but the first real extended try. He has hit on 18 of 20, including going five for five against Calgary in week 7, one of them a 56-yarder.
“This is really my rookie season,” he said. “I haven’t played in several stadiums yet. For me everything is new, but I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, stay humble, and just keep working hard. I guess it’s been a real relief, but I haven’t had time to reflect on it. I don’t want to think I’ve made it because I’ve only played six games. Things can turn around pretty quickly.” Brett went on to say that he “want[s] to make it through a whole season; and turn that into other seasons and ultimately; turn that into years, as I try to pile it on and make this my job going forward.”
Lauther went to St. Mary’s University as a receiver, a position he played in his first season, before switching to kicking. He was selected by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the seventh round, 53rd overall, in the 2013 Draft. During his rookie year, he played in four games and converted six of 10 attempts. He nailed four of four in his first game, which happened to be played in New Brunswick as part of the CFL’s Touchdown Atlantic experience. He was named Special Teams’ Player of the Week. He spent the entire 2014 season on the practice roster behind Justin Medlock, now with Winnipeg, who became a huge influence on his career.
What followed became a nomadic journey with several stops, including three in a month’s time last year. He entered this year feeling he would either make it or quit trying and move on with his life. He was working as a server/bartender at a restaurant when the Riders’ called. Back in 2015, the first time the Riders’ called, he was working as a roofer.
When Riders’ incumbent kicker, Tyler Crapigna, who overcame some struggles early last season, opted to undergo surgery in June, it created the opportunity for Lauther.
Being a field-goal kicker in Saskatchewan is unique because of the history with legends such as McCallum and Dave Ridgway.
“It’s definitely the pinnacle of the league and where you want to play,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal going out there in front of 33,000 fans every game and just trying to give it your all to win.”
So far, he hasn’t been embraced walking through Regina by Rider Nation.
“I try to stay low key,” he said. “If I’m out with (quarterback) Zach Collaros or some of the other guys who have been here they are pretty noticeable. Guys like Paul McCallum and Ridgway who have played here and became staples of the community, it’s a lot different. Maybe someday I’ll start getting recognized, but for now I’m just walking around like everybody else.”
Lauther has followed some of what is happening around the league and complimented Ward for going seven-for-seven.
“For someone being that young and a rookie in this league – I got to kick in my rookie year – it’s pretty impressive,” he said. “Hats off to him. They’ve got a good one over there for sure.”
He also empathizes with other kickers who have gone through struggles.
“It’s kind of just a position where a lot of people are going to get on you if you have that one bad game, where guys playing other positions can have bad games and just make one catch and it saves the day,” he said. “You kick the ball and it’s over and you can’t make up for it. I definitely feel for guys when they’re having off days. I’m sure I’m going to have some along the way, too. You just try to keep working hard and put your head down and just stay focused on what you need to do. There’s great kickers (in the CFL) – they wouldn’t have got to this level if they weren’t – so they’ll bounce back.”
He is miffed with critics – including TV analysts who have played pro football – who verbally knock kickers when they miss an attempt and say that’s the only job they have to do and aren’t involved in the trenches.
“I can’t even acknowledge that because coming from other positions in football and other sports, I just feel like that’s so naïve,” he said. “Nobody is going out there to lose a game or miss, and if you’re going to put it down to one job, it’s probably the most athletic job on the field. I don’t want to shoot down any other position or what anyone else does. There are other guys that can play certain positions, but there’s probably no one else on the team that can kick a ball as good.
“A lot of people say that they have what it takes to kick professionally – I challenge them to try. We are athletes and I don’t really agree with people that think or say that.”
“We’ve got a great snapper and a great holder here (in Saskatchewan) and over half of the job is done before I hit the ball. People don’t factor in that. They don’t factor in the wind, rain. They forget to factor the pressure – everyone watching you. For guys who go out and play certain positions; there’s 12 moving parts. For kickers, it’s just you – and all eyes are on you when you are kicking a field goal. It’s difficult for people to truly understand.”
“That doesn’t even really get me fired up though. That kind of talk just comes from a lack of perspective and experience. It takes a lot to be a professional kicker contributing to a successful kicking unit in the CFL.”