|Needham native Steven Hauschka launches a field goal during his first game with Denver. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)|
Hauschka lands on his feet with kicking job for Broncos
After finishing third among United Football League kickers with 44 points, Steve Hauschka came home to Needham a month ago with his professional football future very much up in the air.
“I just tried to stay sharp by practicing at DeFazio Field, and I came home one day after kicking in the cold weather by myself, and my cellphone was loaded with messages,’’ said the 25-year-old.
The Denver Broncos needed a replacement for kicker Matt Prater, who had been placed on injured reserve. After a chat with the NFL team’s player personnel department, Hauschka was en route the next morning to join his new squad.
Hauschka never played football at Needham High, where he was standout in soccer and lacrosse. When he attended Middlebury College, his roommate was a football player and urged him to try out as a placekicker. He proceeded to have a stellar career at the Vermont school, where he holds the season and career marks for field goals, and was also a standout kicker as a graduate student at North Carolina State.
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, and played parts of that season and last year with the Baltimore Ravens before being cut. This fall, he helped the Las Vegas Locomotives win the UFL championship.
“My time with Las Vegas helped keep me sharp, but while I was under contract with them, about five NFL kickers went down with injuries, so that was kind of frustrating,’’ he said.
Since his first game with Denver on Dec. 12, Hauschka had converted 6 of 7 field goal attempts and all 6 of his extra points going into today’s season finale at home against San Diego, and had kicked off 16 times, averaging 62.9 yards per kick with two touchbacks. His three extra points and a 27-yard field goal were crucial in Denver’s 24-23 win last week against visiting Houston.
“I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time,’’ said Hauschka, who said he has had words of encouragement since signing on with Denver from his college football mentors, including Middlebury head coach Bob Ritter and Tom O’Brien and his staff at N.C. State.
“Sure, I was disappointed after being cut by the Ravens, especially as a young kicker on a playoff-caliber team,’’ added Hauschka, who played in eight games for Baltimore in 2008, primarily as a kickoff specialist, and in nines games last fall, when he hit 9 of 13 field goal tries and 27 of 28 extra points.
“But after a game in Cleveland against the Browns in which I was 1 for 2 on field goals and had an extra point blocked, the team decided to go elsewhere for a kicker,’’ said Hauschka.
He played in one preseason game this summer with the Atlanta Falcons and three more with the Detroit Lions, but was not signed by either team. So Hauschka went back to Needham in September before signing with Las Vegas.
Hauschka played in the Locos’ final six regular-season games and the UFL championship win over the Florida Tuskers.
During the regular season he ended the longest game in UFL history with a 53-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the overtime period for a 24-21 home victory over the Hartford Colonials, earning UFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
He also earned the weekly award after matching the league record with four field goals in a 26-3 victory at Sacramento.
“Hauschka had been kicking well, so we felt like we had a good option with him and it was time to make the move,’’ said Denver’s interim coach, Eric Studesville.
Hauschka excelled in Needham’s drive to the 2003 state lacrosse championship, scoring a late goal to help the Rockets defeat Hingham, and he was named the MVP of the state title game against Amherst High after scoring several goals.
He came to Middlebury College as a lacrosse player, Hauschka said, and so “when I talked to Coach Ritter about football, he was kind of surprised.’’
Hauschka had a good tutor in his father, Peter, who played soccer at Amherst College, later played professional rugby, and had a tryout as a kicker with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I haven’t even thought about next year,’’ said Hauschka. “I’m just going with the moment.’’
Curtin named Bentley coach Kevin Curtin, a cross-country All-American at Brandeis University (class of 1984) who also participated in the 1988 US Olympic Trials at 1,500 meters, has been named men’s and women’s track and cross-country coach at Bentley University.
Curtin was captain of the Judges’ 1983 NCAA Division 3 national championship cross-country squad, and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame last year.
As head of the running teams at Bentley, he will succeed Ed Lyons, retiring after 19 years.
Curtin served stints as an assistant track coach at Brandeis and head coach at Needham High, and was head coach of the New Balance Boston Track Club for the last seven years.
Local skaters lift Harvard
The Harvard University women’s hockey team features a number of local skaters, including freshman defenseman Marissa Gedman of Framingham, a Noble & Greenough School graduate; freshman forward Elizabeth Parker of Acton (Acton-Boxborough Regional High); and senior forward Ashley Wheeler of Concord (Lawrence Academy).
Their team was off to a 5-6-2 start (4-2-2 ECAC Hockey) at semester break. Gedman had a goal and five assists playing in all 13 games, Parker a goal in 12 games, and Wheeler three assists in 13 games.
Marvin Pave can be reached at 508-820-4223 or marvin.pave@ rcn.com.