How does one become a hall of fame kicker?
Well, obviously making a lot of kicks is essential, but that was only part of the formula for Mike Nugent.
“Luckily I played for a coach who was very satisfied with kicking field goals,” the Centerville native said this week while discussing being selected for the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Nugent made 25 of 28 field goals during Ohio State’s 2002 national championship season and ended up 72 for 88 in his career, including 8 of 9 from 50 yards or more. He was a two-time All-American and won the Lou Groza Award in 2004 as the nation’s top kicker.
He is Ohio State’s all-time leader in field goal accuracy (81.8) and all-time leading scorer with 356 points.
Those are hall of fame numbers, of course, but more than that the complete story of Ohio State football in the first decade of the 21st Century can’t be told without a mention of those days when calls of “Nuuuuuuge!” would reverberate throughout Ohio Stadium on fourth downs.
That coach he referenced was Jim Tressel, whose legendary conservatism was no doubt burnished by having a kicker as reliable as Nugent early in his 10 years on the sidelines in Columbus.
Nugent wasn’t the only standout kicker Tressel coached at Ohio State, but he was the first.
“You know what I can’t really speak for too many of the other guys, but for me we had a very good personal relationship,” Nugent recalled. “Especially on the field, we would always have good talks before the game. After warmups I would have a little meeting with him like, ‘Hey, how do you feel each direction? How is the wind looking to you?’ So we would break things down.
“I can’t speak for him, but I feel like he had a good amount of confidence in me, like once we get to this yard line we’re good to go. Hopefully my practice and games gave him that kind of confidence in me.”
Before he could become an Ohio State legend, Nugent had to shake off a rough freshman season.
He missed half his 14 field goals in his first year on campus and two PAT kicks, too. The 2001 Buckeyes went 7-5 in Tressel’s first season with three losses by three points or less.
“I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” he said of his freshman season. “You get in front of those fans and sometimes you almost go into survival mode where it’s like, ‘OK I’ll do whatever I can to make this kick,’ instead of just thinking about what I worked on, what I learned and applying it. I just didn’t do that.”
An offseason to get acclimated to college, get stronger and refine his approach worked wonders.
“Just more comfortable for kicking,” Nugent said. "It’s such a mental part of football, so once those things got figured out it made things a lot more fun and more comfortable out on the field.”
Along with freshman running back Maurice Clarett and an opportunistic defense, Nugent became an indelible part of the 2002 title run.
Two years later, he was recognized as the best kicker in the country and named a team captain while maintaining rockstar status on campus.
“You know what it was a lot of fun because I know the effort and discipline that went into my entire college career and it pretty much paid off,” he said. “It was fun to be one of those guys who it was kind of an odd position to get so much attention but it was fun to be able to go out there and score some points.”
He’s gone on to play 14 seasons in the NFL, beginning with the New York Jets, who chose him in the second round of the 2005 draft.
He also spent seven seasons with the Bengals, where he resurrected his carer after brief stops in Arizona and Tampa.
“I’ve been very happy with (my NFL career),” he aid. "At the beginning there was pressure that came with being drafted, but I thought to myself I didn’t choose to be picked in the second round or anything like that so I had to think don’t put pressure on yourself just because you got picked in this spot.”
After spending time with the Bears, Cowboys and Raiders over the past two seasons and rehabbing a hip injury this offseason, he is hoping to get a shot in the league again this fall.
“I unfortunately had hip surgery after Week 3 this year, but everything feels too good and healthy to just stop now,” Nugent said. “I’m having too much fun, so I’m going to try to hang on as long as I can.”
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