By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Kickers are a different breed.
Always have been, always will be.
Remember Garo Yepremian, the Armenian tie maker whose Super Bowl pass attempt remains the No. 1 blooper in the history of the classic game.
Then there was an old-time placekicker named Ben Agajanian, who had a deformed foot and wore a special shoe, not unlike Tom Dempsey. One day, in kicking camp, one of his campers asked him, “Ben, how can I get a shoe like yours?”
“First you get a lawn mower ...” he answered.
West Virginia University’s greatest punter, Todd Sauerbrun, was with the Carolina Panthers when he decided to put the “whammy” on Tampa Bay placekicker Martin Gramatica, with whom he had feuded for several years.
Well, whatever kind of “mental hex” he put on Gramatica worked, for he missed three field goals in a 21-14 Carolina victory, which led Tom Sorenson of the Charlotte Observer to write, “Sauerbrun went to college at West Virginia. They know secret mountain stuff up there.”
All of this brings us to West Virginia’s newest kicker, a freshman out of Texas named Josh Lambert, who is a combination punter-placekicker who could wind up handling the kickoffs and eventually figures to be doing all the kicking duties.
Although he stands 5-11, weighs a healthy 205 and hails from Texas, Lambert is the one youth in the state who did not play football in his formative years.
“I played soccer in middle school,” he said.
OK, if you can kick and are athletic, you can be forgiven for that, even in Texas, but surely in a state that had the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, SMU, Rice, Baylor, TCU, etc., at least he had to be a rabid football fan, glued to the TV every Saturday and Sunday growing up.
“I didn’t watch football until I started playing football,” he said.
And you might be careful how you define that playing football.
Lambert didn’t mess around pretending to be Earl Campbell or Tony Dorsett or Roger Staubach or Bob Lilly, even in imaginary games.
Maybe Pele, but that was about it.
In fact, he says he’s never really done anything on a football field other than kick, which sometimes isn’t such a bad idea considering that when you play other positions you usually end up getting hit pretty hard.
“I’ve been hit hard a few times on punts,” he said. “And one time, I had a bad snap on an extra point. I picked it up and he hit me square in the face. After the extra point, I went to set the ball down for the kickoff and my nose was bleeding.”
Getting a bloody nose playing football is a red badge of courage, so to speak, although this one was different.
“He didn’t hit me in the nose.
He just hit me so hard my nose was bleeding,” Lambert said.
Once he took up kicking the football, he threw himself fully into it, knowing he had a talent to succeed.
He took on Rocky Willingham as a coach, a respected teacher of the art.
“He worked with Randy Bullock, who just was drafted last year,” Lambert said.
He learned both punting and placekicking. In 2011 as he helped Garland High to the 10-5A district championship, he hit 9 of 16 field goals, including boots of 47, 48 and 51 yards. He added 49 of 52 extra points and had 15 touchbacks on kickoffs.
The previous year he went 6 of 10 on field goals, including the school’s longest ever, hitting from 52 yards out against Duncanville.
That, he says, isn’t the end of his range.
Asked how far out he felt he could kick one, his answer had to bring a chuckle.
“Consistently? Or lucky?” he said.
Consistently seemed like what was really wanted, and to that he said succinctly, “I’d say 57 yards.”
And his longest punt?
“Sixty-five or 70,” he said, not acting as if that were any big deal.
When you have talent like that, you want to make sure the word gets around. Lambert did so in style, with a 10-minute-long recruiting tape of his kicking.
“I had someone film it for me. I did it just to get noticed,” Lambert said. “When you contact them, you want to have video to show them. That’s what it was for.”
Apparently, one of the people who came across the tape was Joe DeForest, WVU’s special teams coach, who contacted Lambert.
“I got a phone call from Coach DeForest. I’d never talked to him before, but I knew who he was,” Lambert said.
Considering he had not had any offers from major schools, this was the opening he was looking for and snapped it up, just as the Mountaineers snapped him up knowing both Tyler Bitancurt, the placekicker, and Corey Smith, the punter, graduate this year.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.