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In the September issue of Bucknuts, we awarded two outstanding OSU athletes with our awards for Athletes of the Year. The winners were no surprise -- volleyball star Stacey Gordon and football kicker Mike Nugent. Read on for the story.
Headline: Athletes of the Year
By Dave Biddle
In another strong year for Ohio State University athletics, volleyball standout Stacey Gordon and football placekicker Mike Nugent stood above the rest.
Therefore, they share the honor of Bucknuts the Magazine's Athlete of the Year for 2004-05. Here is a look at these two unique and successful athletes:
Gordon: OSU's Best Ever?
Gordon, who hails from Oshawa, Ontario, is arguably the best volleyball player in school history.
The 5-11 outside hitter was a senior in 2004 and more than made the most of her final season in a Buckeye uniform. She was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association Co-National Player of the Year as well as the ASICS/Volleyball Magazine National Player of the Year while leading her team to a 32-4 record and a berth in an NCAA Tournament regional final.
She took home many additional national honors, including AVCA first-team All-America, ASICS/Volleyball Magazine first-team All-America, AVCA National Player of the Week and CoSIDA Academic All-District second team. She was also the Big Ten Player of the Year and a first team all-conference selection.
Gordon, Ohio State volleyball's only four-time All-American, set the NCAA record for kills per game with 7.08 in 2004. She also is a four-time All-Big Ten selection and holds Big Ten records for kills in a season and career kills. Gordon set the school record for career digs and is third all-time on the NCAA Division I career kills list. She is a four-time Ohio State Scholar-Athlete, three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and was a Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor finalist.
Gordon also was named Ohio State Female Athlete of the year twice, making her only the third female in school history to accomplish that feat (Katie Smith, basketball, 1994 and '96, Donica Merriman, track/field, 2000-01) and the sixth student-athlete (Jim Jackson, basketball, 1991-92; Blaine Wilson, gymnastics, 1995 and '97, Jamie Natalie, gymnastics, 2000-01) overall to do so.
"We've had some good ones here, but Stacey was as good or better than any of them," OSU volleyball coach Jim Stone said. "She was one of the few players that had an all-around game at the highest level. She can hit, block, defend, serve … she could do it all. In addition to that, she is the consummate competitor. She was always working hard to get ahead."
Among her achievements, setting the NCAA record for kills is near the top of the list.
"Stacey earned the right to take big swings and she usually made the most of them," Stone said. "I was pleased that we had other offensive players step up and contribute this year. But when we needed big points, the ball went to Stacey more often than not. Like I said before, she earned that right."
Gordon was a big-time recruit coming out of Canada, but never expected to develop into the best player in school history.
"When I first arrived, I knew what kind of program I was coming into," Gordon said. "I knew we had a good program and were a competitive team. I really wasn't thinking about what I could accomplish on a personal level. I just wanted to be successful as team and I'm glad to go out with such a great season team-wise. I didn't want to look back and think about a game that we could have won. I wanted to be proud of everything we did, win or lose."
It wasn't very often that Gordon had her hits blocked. But when it happened, she became even more intense and determined.
"I get fired up when my hits are blocked," Gordon said. "It makes me think of different angles to use and how to put the ball down."
No, Gordon wasn't into playing with dolls when she was younger. She grew up as a big sports fan. Nothing was more important than Toronto Maple Leafs games.
"I love hockey and love playing it," Gordon said. "It is the most loved sport in Canada. Everyone plays when they have the chance."
Early in her life, Gordon also played a version of hockey called ringette. Ringette is similar to hockey, but with no contact and it is a female-only sport.
"Ringette is played like hockey with the same rules," Gordon said. "However, instead of using a regular hockey stick with a blade, you just use a stick and poke at a blue rubber ring, instead of a puck, and try and score goals. I credit ringette as introducing me to the sports world."
Following her OSU career, Gordon signed with a professional volleyball team in Turkey. The sport is much bigger in Europe and Gordon could develop into an international star.
"She's going to make a good living playing pro volleyball," Stone said. "She's going to play in Europe against the best players in the world and she's going to make a lot of money. She worked hard to get there. This is very well-deserved and she has a lot of people pulling for her back in Columbus."
Gordon is ready for the rigors of life as a professional athlete. There are a lot of spoils, but it takes hard work.
"I have matured in life and become a more disciplined person off the court," Gordon said. "Doing things off the court like working out and getting up earlier to accomplish tasks for the day have led to a greater deal of maturity."
Nugent: Strong In The Clutch
Nugent hails from Centerville, Ohio, and could well go down as the best kicker in Ohio State history.
In 2004, he became the first OSU player to capture the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's best kicker. Nugent was also a first-team All-American selection, a first-Team All-Big Ten selection and was voted by his teammates as Ohio State's most valuable player. He became the first kicker to win OSU's MVP and also became the second kick specialist to be named a team captain, following Tom Skladany in 1976.
In 2004, Nugent was 24 of 27 on field goals (he holds the school record for most field goals in a season with 25, set in 2002). Overall, he owns or shares 22 school records, including most career points by an OSU player (353) and most field goals in a career (72).
In 2004, he set the school record for most 50-yard field goals in a season with five. His 55-yard field goal as time ran out against Marshall propelled the Buckeyes to a 24-21 victory. It will go down as one of the most memorable kicks ever at OSU. The following week, Nugent tied a school record with five field goals at North Carolina State, leading the Buckeyes to a 22-14 victory.
Nugent was also 31 of 31 on extra points in 2004 and finished his career with 85 consecutive extra point conversions.
Nugent also served as somewhat of a defensive weapon for the Bucks in '04. Thirty-four of his 55 kickoffs in resulted in touchbacks.
As for the game-winning kick against Marshall, Nugent didn't seem all that impressed at the post-game press conference.
"I just got out there and told myself, ‘This is no different than an extra point.' I don't know what anyone else thinks, every extra point I hit, if it's dead center I could have hit it from 65, maybe 70," Nugent said. "So I was telling myself, don't change anything. Some people get out there and try to kill it, but everything was so perfect on the other end besides the kick itself, so I knew it would be there. I just kept telling myself, ‘Just hit it like an extra point.'"
Head coach Jim Tressel also commented on Nugent's game-winner following the game.
"I was confident," Tressel said. "We've put him in that position many times in kick scrimmages. It's the last play of the game and here's what we've got to do. He's a great kicker. There's not a better one in college football and I think he proved that today."
Believe it or not, Nugent almost didn't end up at Ohio State.
He was not heavily recruited by former OSU head coach John Cooper and Nugent was thinking about committing to Pittsburgh. However, Tressel took the job in January 2001 and quickly made Nugent one of his priorities.
As a senior at Centerville in 2000, Nugent made 5 of 7 field goal attempts. He also connected on a 52-yarder, but his lack of attempts caused some teams to shy away.
But not Tressel and OSU. Nugent committed to the Buckeyes in late January (while in the car with his parents on a recruiting trip to Pitt) and the rest is history.
Following his outstanding senior season, the 5-10, 180-pound Nugent was selected by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft. He was the first kicker off the board, and it was the earliest a kicker was selected since the Oakland Raiders took Sebastian Janikowski in the first round of the 2000 draft.
"Nuge, to me that's special to be the first guy picked by someone in their draft (the Jets did not have a first round pick) and you're a placekicker," Tressel said. "I don't think they'll be disappointed. I suppose he had good training for New York by being raised in Columbus where you're supposed to make every kick and win every game. So, he'll be ready for that New York expectation and they will grow to really appreciate Mike Nugent."
You can just hear the Jets fans now: N-U-G-E, Nuge, Nuge, Nuge.