If it were up to Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorius, he’d never have to end his Buckeye career.
“I’m 29 now, but I wish I had another five years here,” he said.
Unfortunately for Pretorius and senior punter A.J. Trapasso, their time as Ohio State football players is nearing an end. Both, presumably, have six games left in which to put on the scarlet tops and silver helmets before shuffling off into the real world.
Or will they?
Both Pretorius and Trapasso hope to continue their careers at the next level should the option arise. Both will be encountering a difficult road owing to the fact that there are just 30 such shots available in the NFL at each position, and they come with no guarantees.
Take the case of Taylor Mehlhaff, the former Wisconsin kicker who finished a standout career as a Badger a year ago. The All-American and two-time All-Big Ten choice made 21 of 25 field goals a year ago, including 5 of 7 from beyond 40 yards. That helped him become a sixth-round draft pick of the Saints.
By the time the season started, Mehlhaff was looking for work after he was cut by New Orleans when he couldn’t win the job during training camp. He just so happened to be in Madison when Pretorius and the Buckeyes faced the Badgers Oct. 4, and the two kickers found time to have a word with one another.
“He basically said he’s hoping to get another opportunity,” Pretorius said. “It shows even if you’re drafted you can get cut easy if you’re a kicker. It doesn’t really happen at the other positions.”
Mehlhaff’s luck soon changed when Martin Gramatica, the player New Orleans chose to keep instead of him, suffered a season-ending injury just two nights later. Mehlhaff was re-signed quickly by the Saints and made 2 of 3 field goals against Oakland Sunday.
That shows just how quickly lives can change in the cutthroat business of the NFL. Despite the uncertainly, Pretorius said he’d like to give it a try.
“That’s the reason I came to America, and I’d definitely like to give that a shot,” he said.
Pretorius has been consistent in the upper 70s when it comes to field-goal percentage during the past two seasons. He made 18 of 23 tries (78.3 percent) a year ago but had four blocked. That has not been a problem this year, but Pretorius is 13-of-17 in the campaign for a percentage of 76.5. He’s also made a 50-yarder to give him three makes from beyond 50 in his career.
An improvement would be necessary to get to the next level considering 16 starting kickers in the NFL have made 90 percent or more of their kicks.
Still, Pretorius thinks he can take a chance, and he wouldn’t mind getting a shot to take kickoffs this year as well.
“Obviously Aaron (Pettrey) has a really strong leg so he’s handling kickoffs now,” Pretorius said. “I know I can kick off, get it inside the 5 with four-second hang time, and (if I) keep on hitting field goals the way I have been, I should be able to get an opportunity somewhere.”
Then there’s Trapasso, who is having a career year during his final campaign. He averaged more than 40 yards per punt in each of his first three years but has stepped it up this year with an average of 43.0 yards per boot and nine punts of 31 downed inside the 20.
Trapasso, who is in the top 25 nationally in punt average and who has Ohio State in the top 10 in net punting, has a handle on what NFL scouts are looking for.
“It’s kind of really common knowledge more than anything,” Trapasso said. “It’s hang time and your get off. They don’t want 60-yard bombs with four-second hang times because you’re just going to outkick your coverage. The NFL just wants good direction, a lot of hang, and that’s what I’ve been working on, but not necessarily for NFL reasons.”
Had Trapasso stayed with an average of 44.9, his mark before the Purdue game, it would have been good enough to place 16th in the NFL right now. Now at 43.0, Trapasso would be tied for 26th in the league.
He also has the running skills to be a weapon on fake field goals and punts, as the Buckeyes tried to have the high-school tailback rush for a first down against the Boilermakers on a fake field goal before a delay of game ruined that chance.
Both have plenty to fall back on should the dream not work out. Trapasso received his degree in political science in the spring and is taking graduate-level classes. Pretorius is working on a marketing degree at the moment.
“I’m focusing on my degree first, and if football works, great,” he said.
The two seniors will spend their energies on the rest of the season for the 6-1 Buckeyes, and the rest will be unknown from there. The only sure thing is that an invite to a pro camp would provide a chance to make each of their dreams come true.
“If you get an opportunity in camp, you have to make it happen,” Pretorius said.