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Headline: Success, At Last
By Steve Helwagen
(From Feb. 2006 issue)
For five long years, Josh Huston largely sat back and watched.
Yes, there was the ill-fated 2001 season, when Huston did get on the field and
attempted 10 field goals. He made only three of those kicks, though, and was
relegated to a backup role behind Mike Nugent.
The rest was history as Nugent put a death grip on the kicking job for the
Buckeyes over the next three years. He twice won All-American honors and ended
his career as the Lou Groza Award winner in 2004.
Amazingly, Huston, who was at OSU one year before Nugent arrived, was granted an
extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. He cited a series of injuries that had
kept him out of action in the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
He stuck around for the 2005 season and competed with walk-ons Aaron Pettrey and
Ryan Pretorius to replace Nugent. But Huston was not content in simply replacing
Nugent. He wanted to match or better his record of success for the Buckeyes.
And, over the course of the regular season, he came awfully close.
Huston followed in Nugent’s footsteps as the first team All-Big Ten kicker. He
made 20 of his 24 field goals with a long kick of 47 yards (one against Iowa and
another in the win over Michigan). His misses were from 50, 50, 49 and 46 yards.
Huston was also 40 of 41 on PAT attempts.
But the stat that stood out was Huston’s whopping 49 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs.
That figure was believed to be a Big Ten record. Playing for a coach who likes
to see his teams win on the basis of defense and field position, Huston more
than replaced Nugent.
“Josh Huston has done everything we had hoped he would do,” said OSU coach Jim
Tressel. “We knew he was an excellent kicker. We knew he has a tremendously
strong leg. He was in a battle five years ago for the starting job and was still
kicking off well into the season and Mike Nugent kind of took the job.
“To Josh Huston’s credit, he kept working on it. He fought through some injuries
and really couldn’t kick very much for a couple years. But he had confidence in
himself. Usually, the people that achieve have even more confidence in
themselves than maybe everyone else does. He knew for sure that he could do this
and going into the year, I felt that he was very capable.”
Huston and Pretorius, a native of South Africa, went toe to toe – literally –
during preseason camp. But Huston won the job.
“Right near the end of preseason, Ryan Pretorius, who was battling it out at
kicker with Josh, said, ‘Josh Huston’s going to have a tremendous year this
year, I promise you.’ And for the guy who was trying to beat him out to say that
-- he’s with him every second during practice, so we’ve really been pleased with
what he’s done.”
One would think that Huston would have spent the off-season kicking every day as
he pined to finally be OSU’s starting kicker. But Huston knew he needed to be
strong and healthy when the season began. He concentrated more on lifting and
running than actually kicking the ball.
“In the off-season, believe it or not, I didn’t kick for 2-1/2 months,” Huston
said. “I worked out and I did legs and stuff. But I did no kicking. I came back
and I was crushing the ball. It was the best I’ve ever hit the ball.”
Huston, a native of Findlay, Ohio, has been known for his strong leg since he
arrived at OSU. But improving his accuracy was the biggest thing. He made his
first five field goals in the showdown against Texas. But a late 50-yard miss
that drifted just wide left helped shape that 25-22 loss. His other 50-yard miss
came in the 17-10 loss at Penn State.
“It’s nice that I am 100 percent inside 45 yards,” Huston said. “I have those
two 50-yarders I missed. I was just wide right. I’d like to have those two back.
Unfortunately, we lost those two games. I’m feeling confident. Most of my balls
have been pretty much down the middle and no-doubters.
“The Texas one, I knew I left my hips open to the right. But I knew there was
some wind coming back left. I thought it might hook back in a little bit. It was
trying to, but just didn’t do it enough. The Penn State one, I thought I hit it
down the middle. Mike would say, ‘Ninety-five percent of the time, you would
know where it was going.’ That was just one of those times where you didn’t.
“I left it right there and there was a wind going right-to-left there that
didn’t bring it back, either. Those are things I need to work out.”
Huston ended the year hitting 83.3 percent of his field goals.
“What the coaches really look for is a 70 percent mark throughout the season,”
Huston said. “I think we have really bumped up the standard. I set an 85 percent
goal for myself before the season. Now that I can see that I can do a little
better, I’m trying for that.”
Huston’s ability to deliver touchbacks helped the Buckeyes immensely as they
made their push toward a Big Ten title.
“When you have a guy that pounds it through the end zone, that helps,” Tressel
said. “Josh had a lot of life in his leg and making them start 80 yards away,
making anyone start 80 yards away for our defense will make their job harder.”
Tressel admitted that it is hard to find a kicker who can consistently back up
the opponent like Huston did this season.
“It took Mike Nugent until his fourth year to pound them through the end zone,”
Tressel said. “In 2003, our kickoff coverage was a nightmare. We just were only
kicking the ball to the 5 and the 6 and here he was one of the great kickers in
the country. Like anything else, I think you can develop it. We work hard to do
Huston talked about the nature of being a kicker. It’s a position that requires,
well, a lot of patience.
“Well, we don’t hit people,” he said. “We don’t have to watch a bunch of film.
We just go out there and do our job. It’s hard to keep our attention for a
four-hour practice or through films. We have to find ways to keep ourselves
entertained. We’re different in that we’re nonchalant and maybe a little more
“I like to stay loose and relaxed. If I’m serious the whole time, I would get
tense. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I just try to stay light-mannered
about the whole thing and I think that keeps me on my game.”
As a kicker, it also helps to be a perfectionist. Like a golfer who tries to
repeat the same swing over and over, Huston notes the importance of being able
to repeat the same kicking motion each time.
“I have the same routine I use every time,” he said. “I try to be picky with the
balls that I hit. I may hit one down the middle but I may get under it a bit.
I’m not happy with it because I didn’t hit it the way that I wanted to. That
keeps me on top of my game.”
Huston was the one remaining remnant from the John Cooper era. He talks about
his long and arduous road to this season.
“When you look at it, you’re part of a great team,” he said. “That’s how you
look at it, whether you play or not. It’s tough. Last year, I just put myself in
situations and asked, ‘If I’m in this situation, how would I prepare?’ It was
good preparation for this year.
“You start figuring it out after a while,” Huston said. “You go out here and
figure out what you need to do and how to save your leg and when to kick and
when not to kick. I’ve been in the shadows for six years, but it’s been fun.
I’ve learned a lot watching Mike kick and just being around him and how to
With Nugent in firm control of the kicking job, Huston tried his hand at punting
last year. But when walk-on Kyle Turano nailed down that job, Huston was again
relegated to the sidelines.
“I had never punted before,” Huston said. “I was trying to just get out there
and do it. I punted too much in the preseason and my body didn’t hold up. I
didn’t have the pop any more. With kicking, I already know how to kick. When I
practice, I don’t practice to get better. I practice to maintain and make sure
I’ll be in top form for camp and, ultimately, for the season.”
A year ago, Nugent went on to become a second-round NFL draft pick of the New
York Jets. Huston is hoping his one big year – not to mention his big leg – will
persuade a pro team to look his way.
“I would love to do that,” he said. “I know Coach has said there have been some
teams that have come in and asked about me. I kick a lot of my kickoffs out of
the end zone. I don’t know what they’re looking for or what they need or if one
year is enough for them.
“But look at (former OSU punter) B.J. (Sander), he got drafted in the third
round and he only played one year. Who knows?”